Children need to be protected. And those who suffer because the adults in their lives have failed them need extra care.

But keeping secrets about how children died while under the care of the S.C. Department of Social Services - and whether changes need to be made to prevent another child's death - is not the way to protect them.

And sadly, 41 percent of all children whose deaths were investigated by SLED last year had interacted with Social Services.

Knowledge of that troubling number lets the public and legislators know that problems exist. But only when DSS identifies the specific problems it faces can it get help from the Legislature and the public to address those problems.

Certainly, each child's death demands detailed scrutiny.

Those who do have access to such information include the State Law Enforcement Division and the 18-member Child Fatality Advisory Committee. SLED keeps the records, and the present administration says, by law, they are not available for public scrutiny.

However, attorney Reggie Lloyd made the records available when he was SLED director, and he says they should be now. He says SLED is interpreting the law in a way that is "unnecessarily broad."

SLED, of course, investigates such deaths. But SLED's job isn't to lobby the Legislature on behalf of DSS.

And the Child Fatality Advisory Committee has the capacity and experience to scrutinize child deaths. It is composed of directors of state agencies that provide services to children and families, and eight other members appointed by the governor, including a forensic pathologist, coroner, pediatrician and child welfare advocates. This year, a representative of the state House and Senate were added to the mix.

But it is the public that can ignite action when the story of a specific child dying at the hands of an abusive parent is revealed.

In 2009, SLED released some detailed information about child deaths. That was the year the Child Fatality Advisory Committee recommended DSS reforms because workers often failed to intervene in homes where parents or guardians were using drugs or alcohol around children who later died.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, has been involved in Senate hearings concerning DSS. She said the media have "helped in this situation ... by making it where people have gotten angry about it and made somebody do something about it," according to a State newspaper report.

For example, DSS director Lillian Koller resigned after being grilled by the Senate Committee on DSS about child deaths.

But that media pressure doesn't happen unless the media have access to significant data.

Indeed, a policy of secrecy effectively protects DSS workers who might have mishandled a case that ended in a child's death. The goal should be protecting children in the system, not bureaucrats.

As long as children who are, or have been, involved with DSS are dying, the problem requires public awareness to promote reforms and protect the children who most need protection.