MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Advocacy groups studying the transparency of child abuse laws gave West Virginia a B- on Tuesday for its mandatory reporting laws, the same grade it earned four years ago.
The Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego and a group called First Star are releasing their most recent state-by-state assessment since 2008. The report says about 1,700 children nationwide died because of abuse last year, yet many states still have restrictive laws that could prevent the identification of potential tragedies.
West Virginia gets a perfect score for having a law that requires public disclosure of information about abuse and neglect cases that result in death or a near fatality, and for providing easy access.
However, the report says the state's policy is "vague and unclear." While it authorizes the release of information in deaths and near-death cases, it doesn't specify what kind of information is to be shared.
The report also faults West Virginia for keeping court proceedings involving abuse and neglect private.
"There is still the pervasive, primitive mentality that continues -- that children are chattel, that children belong to their parents and only the parents have authority to do things and say things and release information," said the report's primary author, Amy Harfeld, senior staff attorney for the Children's Advocacy Institute.
"It's a wider issue," she said. "It's a lack of civil rights for children."
Marsha Dadisman, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said multiple state laws and regulations require proceedings involving children to remain private, including abuse and neglect cases.
"The rules regarding closed and confidential proceedings are not meant to protect the adults," she said. "They are meant to shield the children."
In abuse and neglect cases, it can be difficult and emotionally traumatic for a child to testify, Dadisman said.
"Records that are open to the public may have a significant traumatic effect on the child," she said.