Brandon Stahl Sets A Precedent For Excellence In Reporting (share this with your local newspaper – it could be repeatable & help children)
The issues of child abuse and child protection services are complicated and not well understood by the general public, state legislators, or even the people delivering the services. In the almost twenty years I’ve spent as a volunteer in the system (CASA guardian ad-Litem), I’ve not witnessed a reporter going as deep into the heart of a child protection story until reading Brandon Stahl’s series in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
When a baby is found in a dumpster or some other horrific suffering of a four year old makes the paper, an article of outrage leaves the reader hating and blaming a person or institutional failure. Because it takes a sustained and painful effort to take a deeper look into the depth and scope of the nightmarish conditions that preceded the great sadness of a child’s suffering and death at the hands of a caregiver, the reporting almost always stops right here.
Thirty years ago in White Bear Lake MN (near my home), Lois Jergens went on to adopt five more children after murdering 4 year old Dennis Jergens. None of the approximately fifty children I lobbied to be removed from their homes because of torture, sex abuse, or neglect were ever known to anyone outside the child protection system. The absence of information about abused and neglected children is directly related to our high crime rates, full prisons, troubled schools, and unsafe neighborhoods. We would all benefit by knowing the trauma of ground truth – then we could face it and deal with it. It would be better for us and better for children.
Today, Brandon Stahl is peeling back the layers of this complicated institution of child protection. So few people know anything substantive about it and even the people running it can be so wrong so often (as in passing laws about not using past history of abuse in current investigations or family assessments instead of child protection in high risk cases).
In our interview with Brandon Stahl, he was clear about just how hard it is to pry information out of institutions that either have done a very bad job of gathering and keeping it, or simply don’t want it known. He spoke of the substantial financial investment his newspaper had to make in order to get the basic information about the murder of four year old Eric Dean by his step-mother after fifteen reports of child abuse by mandated reporters.