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Open Family Court Pilot Project

Kentucky opening some child protection cases to public under 4-year pilot project

For the first time in Kentucky, some child protection cases will be open to the public under a four-year pilot project taking place from 2018-2021. While child protection cases are normally closed due to confidentiality, the 2016 Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation asking the Supreme Court to look at whether it’s beneficial to open cases involving child dependency, neglect and abuse, and termination of parental rights.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an order authorizing the Open Family Court Pilot Project and the first phase took place from March 19-May 31, 2018, in Hopkins and Jefferson counties and the four-county judicial circuit of Harrison, Nicholas, Pendleton and Robertson. Judges in those counties volunteered to open their Family Courts to the public and the media for a two-month period of observation and evaluation.

“I’ve long been in favor of opening courts when there are benefits to be gained in accountability and transparency,” Chief Justice of Kentucky 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.”

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.

KRS 21A.190 outlines the framework for the project, KRS 21A.192 details the procedures that must be followed and KRS 610.072 addresses the attendance of the public at these hearings.

The Department of Family & Juvenile Services at the Administrative Office of the Courts is administering the pilot project. Court staff attended court proceedings in the first six counties to observe and conduct focus groups with family members and professionals involved in the cases and provide surveys to participants. Reporters also had the opportunity to take a survey.

Information obtained during the first phase has been compiled into the Open Courts Pilot Project: Observations and Evaluation Report. The report was completed Sept. 1, 2018, and provides statistical analysis, findings and recommendations. The AOC is required to give the legislature an annual report for each year of the pilot project.