A Watched System
A forum to discuss the opportunity for ethical journalism in the juvenile dependency court system
On November 15th, Fostering Media Connections (FMC), in association with the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute of Law and Social Policy at Berkeley Law will produce a “National Conversation” exploring the often acrimoniours debate over whether or not the news media should have access to juvenile dependency proceedings.
On one side you have a foster care system burdened with the almost impossible task of mitigating the worst effects of societal dysfunction: child abuse, neglect and child death. Stymied by confidentiality laws and fear that any mistake will be met with public ire and fierce disciplinary action, workers and child welfare leaders are by-and-large afraid of the potential fallout wrought by negative – even if truthful – media coverage.
On the other side you have a cast of overwhelmingly well-intentioned journalists, who are met with a foster care system practically and – in more than half the states – legally cloaked in obscurity. Working under deadline, with limited space on the page and often lacking the deep institutional knowledge to accurately cover the nuances of this complex system, some journalists meet the system’s predisposition to obfuscate as a challenge and even worse an insult.
The system’s culture of confidentiality invariably erodes the news media’s confidence in it, resulting in more of the coverage that the foster care professionals fear. It is a closed loop, which has given us our current, warped public perception of a broken foster care system. While child welfare professionals could be explaining the solutions to the difficult and fundamental problems they face, they spend an inordinate amount of time deflecting journalists’ probing questions about non-representative stories such as child death. The plain result is that myriad opportunities to engender public and political will are missed and children suffer as a result.
In an effort to foment increased responsible coverage of the foster care system, Fostering Media Connections has created a code of ethics for journalists to follow. By submitting to the guidelines therein there may be an opportunity to trade complete journalistic freedom for access – resulting in a more transparent accountable system. Fostering Media Connections journalists have used the draft code, to enter four otherwise closed juvenile courts in California’s Siskiyou, Marin, San Mateo and Yolo counties.
During the forum in November, experts in law, public policy, child welfare, and journalism will come together to assess the impact of media access to the dependency court system and the possibility of raising the ethical standards of that coverage. In addition, FMC released a report this September that outlines the current state of affairs in the dependency court system and an overview of the documented effects of open and closed courts.
We hope that this forum can help bridge the gap between the child welfare system and the media, create a more informed debate on the topic, and produce practical solutions to better the systems that so many children depend upon.
Michael Nash, Presiding Judge, Los Angeles County Juvenile Court
Jim Newton, Editor at Large for the Los Angeles Times
Barry Krisberg, Director of Research and Policy at The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute of Law and Social Policy
John Diaz, Editorial Page Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle
Lily Dorman Colby, Former Foster Youth and Berkeley School of Law Student
Leslie Heimov, Executive Director for the Children’s Law Center of California
Chantel Johnson, Former Foster Youth and Legislative and Policy Coordinator for California Youth Connection
1:00 PM PST – 3:00 PM PST
2:00 PM CST – 4:00 PM PST
3:00 PM EST – 5:00 PM EST
Doors open at 12:15 PM
Berkeley Law School
Booth Auditorium, Room 105
215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
Webcast: For folks anywhere else in the country, please click here at the appropriate time and you will be able to watch the video live.