FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Some child protection cases will be open to the public under a four-year pilot project that will take place between 2018 and 2021.
In accordance with Senate Bill 40, passed by the 2016 General Assembly, the Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an order this week authorizing the Open Court Pilot Project. This year, Family Courts will be open from March 19-May 31 in Hopkins and Jefferson counties and the four-county judicial circuit of Harrison, Nicholas, Pendleton and Robertson counties.
Although child protection cases are normally closed due to confidentiality, the pilot project will provide an opportunity to look at whether it’s beneficial to open some cases for the public to observe. The public and media will be able to attend proceedings in cases involving child dependency, neglect and abuse and termination of parental rights. Judges in the first six counties to participate in the pilot project volunteered to open their courts for a two-month observation/evaluation period.
“I’ve long been in favor of opening courts when there are benefits to be gained in accountability and transparency,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said. “Kentucky has been discussing opening child protection cases for several years and I look forward to seeing what we learn from this pilot project. I appreciate the judges in the pilot counties who are as invested as I am in determining how to balance the public’s need to know with the child’s need for privacy.”
Parents and other parties and professionals involved in the proceedings, such as attorneys and social workers, will be asked to complete a survey about their experience with open court. Reporters can also take a survey.
The public and media who attend proceedings are prohibited from recording audio or video and taking photos, taking notes with the name or personal information of any minor child who is a party or witness unless the name/information was obtained outside of court, getting copies of any documents or court recordings, and sharing the name or personal information of any party or witness unless they are discussing it with another party or witness in the case or unless they obtained the information outside of court.
A judge may close proceedings if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child or for other good cause. All cases involving sexual abuse will be closed.
The Department of Family and Juvenile Services at the Administrative Office of the Courts is administering the pilot project. Court staff will attend court proceedings to observe and will conduct focus groups with family members and professionals involved in the cases. They will also provide surveys to participants. The AOC will report to the legislature annually on the project.