Wednesday, February 1, 2012

UPDATE: LA child welfare hearings are open NOW

UPDATE, FEB. 2: I discussed the opening of these hearings on KPFK Radio this morning.  The audio is available here.

Court hearings in cases alleging child abuse or neglect in Los Angeles County are now presumed open to the media.

Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash issued his final order last night.  It’s effective immediately.

Journalists will be allowed in unless a party to the case can persuade the judge that this would be “harmful to the child’s or children’s best interests.”

Members of the public will be admitted as well, if they can show “a direct or legitimate interest in the case or the work of the court” and their presence would not be “harmful to the child’s or children’s best interests.”

This marks a significant victory for all of us in child welfare who want to see courts and child welfare agencies made more accountable.  It will be that much harder for the county Department of Children and Families, private foster care agencies, and the courts themselves to cover up their mistakes.  

Open hearings are not a panacea.  But they have led to modest systemic improvements, and often big improvements in the outcome of individual cases.  And none of the fears of opponents has come to pass. Full details are in our  Due Process Agenda.

The former chief judge of New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and the judge who opened these hearings in New York State, Judith Kaye put it best:

“Sunshine is good for children.”

As noted in the previous post to this Blog, with this change, nearly half of America's foster children live in jurisdictions where court hearings are presumed open, as least to media.