2001 Jordan Institute
6, No. 3
Child Fatalities and the Media
Friction between the child welfare system and the media is often most pronouncedwhen a child involved with the system dies. In the worst cases, the department of social services (DSS), motivated by the desire to aid criminal investigations and prosecutions and restricted by laws about confidentiality, must sit by while newspapers and TV run stories that, from the DSS perspective, focus on the wrong things or distort the facts.
Some observers worry that negative media coverage hurts not only DSS's morale, but social work practice. When they feel besieged and demoralized, social workers may be more likely to make errors, either removing children from their families without sufficient cause or allowing them to remain at home even when there are clear safety concerns (Mendes, 2000).
Understanding the media can help prevent this worst case scenario. Most reporters and journalists are not "out to get" social workers or the child welfare system. Rather, they are motivated by their responsibility to provide the public with information. Indeed, some of the journalists who most persistently cover child welfare issues are driven by a desire to build awareness about issues related to child safety and well being.
Assuming all media coverage will be negative can lock you into an adversarial relationship with the media. Instead:
Gough, D. (1996). The literature on child abuse and the media. Child Abuse Review, 5, 363-376.
Mendes, P. (2000). Social conservatism vs. social justice: The portrayal of child abuse in the press in Victoria, Australia. Child Abuse Review, 9, 49-61.