A 10-year-old old girl nearly starved and not allowed outside to play for five years. A 4-year-old boy kicked to death in his home. And a frail teenager handcuffed to a pole in his basement. All three had been involved with Missouri's child welfare system. But caseworkers failed to save them and others. Over the past year, reporters set out to uncover why the system had broken down. The state didn't make it easy, refusing to release any records. But after months of battling, the newspaper received case files that indicated serious — and sometimes fatal — flaws were committed by workers saddled with caseloads well above the national standard. In the Kansas City office alone, more than half the employees had been on the job less than two years. The stories prompted action. Once the state released information, key lawmakers began meeting to form a consistent policy on opening records. Other legislators met with state and local leaders and spoke out in hearings to improve operations within Missouri's system. And a national accreditation team has demanded improvements before approving the agency's re-accreditation.