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Child welfare agencies will soon be more transparent on serious abuse and neglect cases

Wisconsin's child welfare agencies will soon have to tell us a lot more about the way they handle deaths and injuries caused by child abuse and neglect.

Both houses of the Legislature passed a bill Tuesday requiring more disclosure and Gov. Jim Doyle is expected to sign the measure.

It comes after public outrage that confidentiality laws meant to protect victims were used in some cases to hide bureaucratic shortcomings.

Among other things, the bill requires public disclosure of the most serious cases, instead of making it optional.

They'll also have to report more details, and the bill sets deadlines to get it done. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had to go around official sources to learn that 13-month-old Christopher Thomas was beaten to death by a court-ordered kinship provider.

And that was while child welfare workers had repeated visited the family's home, where the boy's 2-year-old sister was also battered.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Christopher's death might have prevented had the new bill been approved earlier.

Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, calls it a first step toward improving the state's child welfare system.

He says much more needs to be done, like reducing workers' heavy caseloads and adding up to 500 more foster homes in Milwaukee County.