The Dallas Morning News’ glimpse into the plight of two new parents facing an unimaginable decision, KING 5 Television’s unraveling of a family’s two-year fight against a state’s error and WBEZ-FM/Chicago Public Radio’s comprehensive look at the dropout crisis are among the winners of the 2010 Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism. The medals are presented by the Journalism Center on Children & Families and funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation.
By chronicling decades of rape, starvation and the hog-tying of students, the six-part series exposes Florida’s oldest reform school for what it really is: a medieval-style prison for children, still open for business today, still funded by the state of Florida. The St. Petersburg Times weaves storytelling and hard facts to paint a haunting picture of the childhoods lost in the swamps, with stories and images that remain with the reader. Meticulous reporting, unflinching photographs, uncensored language and scores of documents create a victory for generations of victims whose lives have been wrecked by the abuse and whose voices had gone unheard.
This team went beyond the story of one child’s death in foster care to discover that 22 additional children died as a result of systemic neglect. The series features in-depth reporting matched with a strong analysis. The sidebars, graphs, photographs and a review of thousands of records add to the stories’ impact. It’s a series that got results, including a new state law that holds welfare officials accountable for the children under their watch.
A heartbreaking tale of repeated failures, poverty and an untimely death, told with sensitivity and suspense. Evans sorts through the bureaucratic maze of the taxpayer-funded agencies that are supposed to help children – but sometimes end up doing more harm than good. The story does a masterful job of revealing how individual actions, including those any of us could imagine taking, can have tragic, unintended consequences. Even Jeremiah’s guardians failed to push the limits of the child welfare system, a lapse which haunts them today. The story prompted the Indianapolis police to establish new policies and devote more attention to potential threats within the child protection system.
These editorials expose the heartbreaking challenges of an Indianapolis high school struggling with a low graduation rate and high poverty. Tully doesn’t sugarcoat the problems, but he inspires the readers by conveying the will and drive of all the people trying to help Manual High, from teachers and students to administrators and police. His unprecedented access to students and staff is revealed in the way the stories unfold like a day-to-day view of life. In response to the series, community leaders donated tens of thousands of dollars, the district cracked down on student misbehavior and volunteers reached out to vulnerable students.
The piece offers a raw and revelatory account of Georgia’s efforts to purge its welfare rolls and put money intended to help the poor toward other programs. That a state could get away with sneakily withdrawing its safety net is both shocking and frightening. Solid reporting, strong writing and a powerful case study provide a fresh look at welfare in a time of economic crisis. Mencimer does a public service by highlighting the issue.
Who knew that sheriff’s officials in Harris County, Texas, were placing children as young as 15 in solitary confinement, bereft of counseling, physical activity and education? No one, apparently – not even the judges who sent them there. With dogged reporting and compelling writing, Vogel exposes a justice system that seems to have given up on its most vulnerable. The project prompted outrage and action, among legislators, academics and advocates.
These images captured the courage and love behind the gut-wrenching decision a family had to make about their unborn son. Each photo reads like a story, and the level of intimacy within them can come only if a photographer has established a strong sense of trust with the subjects. The images are intimate without being invasive.
This investigation into a South Side Chicago high school that graduates only 40 percent of its students is thorough, brave and full of impact. The WBEZ team deemed it essential not merely to report the story from a distance – as is often done with at-risk communities – but to actually embed themselves within their sources. The broad use of multimedia makes it difficult to imagine a closer or more focused look into the heart of this story. The project led officials from Chicago Public Schools, the city’s juvenile justice system and even performer Kanye West to direct attention and resources to the students at Paul Robeson High.
Various media outlets have covered transgender children in recent years, but not with as much deftness and tenderness. The reporters simply allow 8-year-olds Thomasina and Lilly to tell their own stories – absent are the voices of experts – and the intimate, honest approach endears them to the listener. It’s the parents of these young children who explain the heartbreaking cruelty posed by peers, a rejecting father and the ignorance of well-meaning friends. “Tom Girls” tells a story that is quite specific, but can be mapped against the struggles of every parent with a special needs child: Am I helping or hurting with this accommodation?
Washington state law is clear: If a parent has been declared unfit to raise a child, relatives must be considered before foster care. So why was Alexis Stuth placed in foster care rather than with the grandparents who had lovingly helped raise her? The KING 5 team laboriously pieces together a slew of evidence, including trails of canceled checks, internal state e-mails and court orders, to expose how the state’s child welfare system made a big mistake. The project not only helped inspire a heartwarming reunion between the Stuths and their granddaughter, but also led to proposed legislation – the Alexis Stuth Act – which presumes that placement with relatives is in the best interest of the child.
Three distinct, beautifully shot stories about the challenges faced by children and our misplaced priorities about what deserves public and federal attention. The unique look into the seats of Bus 4203 shows how one school is trying to ensure that its students remain on track amid swelling rates of homelessness. The story on school expenditures exposes blatant violations of the Americans with Disability Act and reveals how a child in a wealthy school district can be among the “have-nots.” A piece on the military’s denial of therapy for autistic children of service members speaks to the complex issues affecting thousands of military families. The videos showcase superb storytelling, footage and editing.
This unvarnished account of high school dropouts in Detroit goes beyond damning generalizations to hold accountable the players at every level – from students and their parents to teachers and federal officials. The piece exposes problems that can be applied to troubled school districts across the country. The use of personal stories helps explore the complexities, offer solutions and provide cautionary examples of those who followed the dropout path.