Ohio denies newspaper’s request for list of foster parents

Thursday, October 5, 2006

CINCINNATI — The state has denied a newspaper's public-records request for the names and addresses of every licensed foster parent in Ohio, saying release of the information would be illegal and could jeopardize children.

Only those who place foster children in homes need access to such information, said Barbara Riley, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The Cincinnati Enquirer had asked for the records as part of its coverage of foster parents charged with murder in the death of a 3-year-old boy in their care. Prosecutors say Liz and David Carroll Jr. left the boy for two days in a closet, where he died. David Carroll is accused of burning the boy's body.

Ohio has almost 11,000 foster parents.

The records requested by the newspaper contain no information about foster children, the Enquirer reported Oct. 3. But making the list of foster parents public could allow threatened foster children to be located, Riley said.

The department based its decision on a state adoptions law and an Ohio Supreme Court case prohibiting the release of information about children enrolled at a Columbus swimming pool.

The Enquirer's attorney said those arguments were irrelevant.

“The request is not for any information about kids,” John Greiner said. “It's certainly not about adoptive situations. To the extent foster parents ultimately may adopt, you wouldn't know that from the list of foster caregivers.”

The newspaper quoted Paul K. McMasters, First Amendment Center ombudsman, as saying, “There are always arguments to be made for secrecy, for keeping the public out of the public's business.

“Sometimes, it's not as easy to see the good in making such information available, but the bottom line is this (request) is not so a newspaper can publish a story or so that people can invade other people's privacy. It is at the very bottom for the protection of the most defenseless among us.”

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