Stanley: Senate Bill 223 will hide autopsy reports and hurt kids

Colorado Springs Independent: Alize Vick was 2 years old when her abusive foster mom, Jules Cuneo, threw her head-first into a coffee table and killed her in 2007.

No doubt Cuneo, who lived in El Paso County, would have paid for her crime whether the media got involved or not. But the repeated failures of the state’s child welfare system — which allowed little Alize to stay in an abusive home even after Cuneo had been reported repeatedly for abuse — likely would have flown under the radar were it not for the media. And the fact that Alize was part of a larger, disturbing pattern was only uncovered due to an investigative series by The Denver Post and 9News.

Brown-eyed, pig-tailed Alize, it turns out, wasn’t the only child “failed to death” by the system intended to protect her. Reporters found that between 2007 and the time of the report in 2012, 175 Colorado kids had died of abuse and neglect. Caseworkers knew that 72 of those kids’ families or caregivers were abusive before the child died in their care.

The Post notes, “The series uncovered issues ranging from a lack of cooperation between police and caseworkers, to disparities in funding and a lack of coordination between county and state officials. It spurred reform, including the creation of a statewide hotline, the hiring of more child protective workers, new training and an increase in funding.”

The stories of these 72 lost children saved other kids like them. But the kids couldn’t speak for themselves anymore, so their stories came from public records — most notably, their autopsy reports.

And that’s important to keep in mind when you consider the perhaps well-intentioned but dangerous and ill-conceived Senate Bill 223. Sponsored by our own Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, it would ban the release of all autopsy reports from minors in Colorado, with a few exceptions for parents, law enforcement, courts and some state agencies.

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