Media And The Social Welfare: Access To The Juvenile Dependency Courts

Photo from: jcomp/Freepik

The common point of complaint regarding the communication between public agencies serving children and the media has always been the fear, mistrust, and subsequent misinformation.

On one side, you have a child welfare system burdened with the nearly impossible task of mitigating the worst effects of societal dysfunction: child abuse, neglect, and child death. On the other side, you have a cast of overwhelmingly well-intentioned journalists, working under a strict deadline, who are met with a foster care system practically and – in more than half of the states – legally cloaked in obscurity.

The system’s culture of confidentiality invariably erodes the news media’s confidence in it, resulting in a more sensationalist coverage that the foster care professionals are scared about. It is a case, which has showcased us the current warped public perception of a broken foster care system. The logical result is that myriad opportunities to engender civil and political will are missed, and children suffer as a result.

In those jurisdictions, where media has been granted to sensitive juvenile dependency hearings, positive change has resulted.

The Responsibility Of The Media

In this era, media has a huge role in communication – delivering news, telling opinions, and revealing more profound ideas and information for the public’s knowledge, by which, in a nutshell, has a higher responsibility with proceedings and social issues no matter how sensitive those might be.

In the articles of Karen de Sa in Mercury News about broken families and courts, different situations have been cited:

Marquita Jackson, 20, a young mother, who reportedly had her baby allegedly shaken by the father that caused brain hemorrhage to the infant had lead to some stir in court. The case was considered public and was handled by Juvenile Defenders’ Attorneys, it had not looked upon thoroughly or deliberately out of focus. In most cases, when inadequate time and resources were given to the victims and case filers, representations in the court system tend to be poor. 
In the discussion of Jackson’s case, a reporter was warned in one interview to not overestimate the importance of due process. Thus, the instance applies to the parents the Juvenile Defenders’ represent; hence, things might sometimes be out of control during the initial hearings: difficulties in getting a social worker to report early and track down some transient clients. 
In sensitive cases like Jackson’s, where events weren’t entirely recorded, and evidence wasn’t sufficiently blown presented – due to the complexity of data; including the parents’ emotional standing, personal relationship with the suspect, and the current status of the child – getting more concrete information has been challenging. 

“If we deny youth the opportunity to participate, we really have set up a system that perpetuates injustice.” – Jennifer Rodriguez, a foster youth. 

Traditionally, having children in court to attend hearings and proceedings are not usual and inappropriate. The jury believes that having them to participate in susceptible situations are more likely to add to their traumatic insight; hence, don’t contribute to their speedy recovery and emotional healing.

In the case of Zairon Frazier, 14, who got whacked with a belt by his mother: it seems that the case was going towards defending that he is abused. In the mind of Frazier, this could be more than just child abuse. Getting beaten by his own mother could affect not only his physical state but as well as his emotional being – the feeling of belongingness and appreciation by his own biological parent could be considered stained in his mind.

In the circumstance of the prohibition of children to attend court proceedings can make any case more inaccessible and too sensitive. In fact, a reporter who won the court’s approval to observe confidential proceedings in Santa Clara Court in California for more than two weeks has reportedly observed children in only a fraction of hearings.

In The Name Of Responsible Reporting

Media must observe all situations and conditions given: the due process, the consideration of behavior, sensitivity, and perception most specifically of the answering party especially in case of children.

No matter how fearful and nearing the deadlines are, it is essential to observe the proper ways of getting and handling statements or appropriate stories, and more exclusively the unbiased and objective reporting to not affect and feud-up the issue.

It is the journalists’ duty and responsibility to connect personally with the victims and to the witnesses to get a piece of their head without a form of abuse in the name of reporting. In fact, it is part of their sworn obligation to perform their jobs in the most socially responsible way. Understanding the pedagogy of cases shall be dealt with grace by the journalist.


Hostalero, A.L. (2015). A Social Welfare Activity Report for J4SC101 – Journalism for Social Change, the University of California Berkeley via edX. 


De Sa, K. (2016, August 14). Part II: A timid advocate for parents’ rights. Retrieved from

De Sa, K. (2016, August 14). Part III: ‘If it was about me, why didn’t they ask me?’ Retrieved from

A Fostering Media Connections. (2012). Watched System Forum [PDF]. California: BerkeleyLaw University of California

Author: shainnehostalero

Shainne Hostalero, MDC is a social entrepreneur (owner and founder of Happy Shift PH), a communication scholar, and a writer.

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