Monday, July 9, 2012

Honoring outstanding journalism about child welfare

            The Journalism Center for Children and Families each year gives awards to what judges chosen by the center consider the best journalism about children’s issues.  This year, the center honored three outstanding examples of broadcast journalism.

            For starters, in the audio category, the center honored NPR’s superb series about what the South Dakota child welfare system is doing to Native American families in that state.  This series already had received one of the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism, a George Foster Peabody award.

            One of two runners-up in the same category was another NPR series, in co-operation with the PBS series Frontline and the non-profit journalism website ProPublica, about innocent people wrongly convicted of killing their children – and the guilty-until-proven innocent mentality that often was behind the prosecutions.

            And in the long form video category, honorable mention went to a segment of the PBS series Need to Know about the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medication on foster children.

            The full press release from the Center is available here. Below are excerpts from the press about these three winners and links to the stories:


WINNER: "Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families," NPR, Laura Sullivan, Amy Walters, Barbara Van Woerkom, Alicia Cypress, Alyson Hurt, Nate Rott, Quinn Ford, John Poole, Susanne Reber (ed.), Steve Drummond (ed.), Keith Jenks (ed.) and Jonathan Kern (ed.)

This outstanding investigation reveals the troubling financial incentive that’s fueling the placement of hundreds of Native American children in foster care. The practice is a disturbing echo of the past, when the U.S. government routinely pulled Native youth from their families and forced them to attend boarding schools. The stories of adults who return home after being sent away to foster care illuminate the human toll on Indian tribes whose very survival depends on children knowing their relatives and learning their culture. The judges said, “This series epitomizes what radio does best: Get into your head, into your heart, under your skin in a way that other media just can't.” In response to the series, U.S. lawmakers demanded action from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies.

RUNNER-UP (tie): “Post Mortem: The Child Cases,” NPR, PBS Frontline and ProPublica, NPR personnel: Joseph Shapiro, Sandra Bartlett, Coburn Dukehart, John Poole, Susanne Reber, Keith Jenkins, Barbara Van Woerkom, Nelson Hsu, Aly Hurt, Stephanie D'Otreppe, Alicia Cypress, Anne Hawke, and Katrine Elk; ProPublica personnel: A.C. Thompson, Chisun Lee, Marshall Allen, Aarti Shahani, Mosi Secret, Krista Kjellman Schmidt, Al Shaw,  Jennifer LaFleur and Robin Fields; Frontline personnel: Lowell Bergman, Carl Byker, Andres Cediel, Arun Rath,  Raney Aronson-Rath, David Fanning and Catherine Upin; California Watch Personnel: Ryan Gabrielson

This series uncovers how a justice system that relies on tainted medical evidence and flawed conclusions from the coroner can condemn innocent people in prison for the worst of all possible crimes: the murder of a child. A grim topic explored in depth and without sensationalism, the series found that almost always, accused parents and caregivers are poor people of color, whose families are irreparably destroyed by heinous allegations and wrongful convictions. In addition, NPR found the physician who coined the term “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” who at age 95 admitted he was troubled to see his diagnosis used in murder cases.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Drugs in the System,” PBS Need to Know and The Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, Sarah Fitzpatrick and Mar Cabra
An eight-month investigation revealed that children, especially those in foster care, were being prescribed powerful medications in combinations that left them lethargic and morose. Foster kids in U.S. were receiving antipsychotic drugs at nine times the rate of other children in the Medicaid system. Adoptive and foster parents detailed the monumental challenges they faced weaning their children off of meds in order to get to know the real child and enable them to develop a healthy attachment. This story made a sizable splash, leading to a Government Accountability Office report and hearings on Capitol Hill. Judges praised the reporting for being “voice for the voiceless.”