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Open Family Court Pilot Project

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

For the first time, Kentucky has opened proceedings in some child protection cases to the public. Proceedings are open in phases during 2018-2021 under a four-year pilot project.

Child protection cases are normally closed due to confidentiality. The pilot program is a result of 2016 legislation in which the Kentucky General Assembly asked the Supreme Court to look into whether it would be beneficial to open cases involving child dependency, neglect and abuse, and termination of parental rights.

“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.”

The Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an order authorizing the Open Family Court Pilot Project in March 2018 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. For the second phase, proceedings in Fayette Family Court were open Jan. 27-Feb. 21, 2020. View the Supreme Court order for the second phase.

Judges volunteer to open their Family Courts to the public and the media for a two-month period of observation and evaluation. 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 are 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 administers the pilot project. Court staff attend court proceedings to observe and conduct focus groups with family members and professionals involved in the cases and provide surveys to participants. Reporters also have the opportunity to take a survey.

The AOC is required to give the legislature an annual report for each year of the pilot project. Reports from the pilot project are available on the right side of this page.