As the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of children in Oregon’s foster care system works its way through the federal courts, it’s clear the state is doing what it can to keep as much information as possible far from the public eye. Disability Rights Oregon and A Better Childhood, based in New York, filed the suit in April.
The state is asking the U.S. District Court in Eugene to seal all records with specific information about the children, while lawyers for the children say that goes too far.
It does go too far.
The state argues that the children’s records should be sealed to avoid making public “histories of familial disruption, sexual violence, personal injury …” and the like. No one, including the lawyers for the children, disagrees with the argument that any information that would make it possible to identify the children, their families and foster parents should be kept secret.
That said, effectively shielding the entire case from the public is even worse. As the lawyers for the children note, doing so would prevent Oregonians from knowing just how badly the state failed some of its most vulnerable citizens, using state tax dollars in doing so. Moreover, they say, a public hearing before Oregon lawmakers in June made much of the same sort of information public.
Again, no one believes the children and their families should be identifiable. Sealing the records would effectively make the trial secret and give the state too much power to keep other information about the children’s care from the public eye. Public scrutiny of lawsuits is what turned up some of the worst problems in the system.
Oregon’s children deserve better than what the Department of Human Services has given them in recent years. Keeping court records public will help ensure the system gets fixed.