Former social worker pushes for change after toddler dies while in foster care

A gag order in the case of a Hawaii island toddler who died while in foster care goes against protecting the child and the family.

That’s according to a former social service worker who’s now looking to change the law to allow more information to the public.

KHON2 spoke with someone who worked with the state Department of Human Services for several years before she was laid off.

She’s pushing for more public access to records that are normally kept confidential by the state, and she has a key lawmaker on her side.

The attorney for the family tells us that services for Fabian Garett-Garcia will be held this weekend on the mainland.

It’s been more than two weeks since he died and his parents still don’t know exactly what happened. The medical examiner has not released a report, so it’s still not known if the death was accidental or if foul play was involved.

With parts of a gag order still in place, the family is not able to get information from the state.

“The gag order from a judge is really going against the intent of federal laws because the intent is really for all of us professionals, para-professionals, and the community folks, is we’re there to protect the child,” said Laurie Hirohata, former DHS worker.

Hirohata says the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act calls for releasing information during investigations when a child is harmed, so a gag order goes against that.

“Think about it. You’re really protecting the perpetrator, and that’s why I came forward because that really bothers me,” Hirohata said.

A spokeswoman for DHS says that the state is only required to release minimal information, like the child’s age and gender. If the state concludes that there’s been abuse or neglect, then it can release more information after the investigation.

Hirohata is part of a group that wants the stat legislature to change state laws allowing the release of more information.

KHON2 reached to Sen. Josh Green, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, and he says he likes the idea of releasing information, saying it could do more good than harm.

“I would like more data and more information, even if we have to redact some personal names. I would like more information about how we can protect kids,” he said.

Green says the first priority is to protect the child and releasing information to the public can help that.

“To be honest, having extra light on certain circumstances makes things safer, because then everyone knows they’re being observed. They’re being held to a standard, and we’re not going to look past any potential risks,” he said.

A spokeswoman sent a statement saying DHS looks forward to any opportunity to engage legislators and the community on finding ways to ensure the public gets important information while protecting the best interests of the children.

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