By Megan Wanner
When it comes to investigating children, many issues can be brought to the table. Everything from neglect and abuse to malnutrition and poverty are issues dealing with children. Children die every year from the many issues we do not always consider childrens’ issues. As journalists, it is our responsibility to investigate these issues and make the public as well as governing entities aware of them in order to seek reform and prevent more deaths and injuries from occurring.
The children’s beat is not the easiest, by far. Anything having to do with children is a sensitive issue. Those at fault neglect to take responsibility for occurrences and those who are knowledgeable about the situations are sometimes weary to talk about them, especially family members afraid of the consequences for loved ones. This is where a journalist must be especially careful in the way they go about obtaining information. Sensitivity is a must, keeping in mind the role of all sources in society as well as in the case. People are much more willing to talk to someone they believe truly cares about their situation and are going to help change things for the better.
When governing bodies or commissioned agencies are the ones responsible for occurrences, especially fatalities, they are typically unwilling to admit their flawed practices are partially responsible. In this case, a journalist must dig deeper than human sources into paper trails that can reveal the information these entities are withholding.
When Washington Post reporters Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham and Sarah Cohen revealed DC’s child protection agency’s part in the deaths of 229 children from 1993 to 2000, they had to take all these considerations in mind. The more the Post discovered, the more dismal the story became, especially as they discovered that many of these childrens’ deaths could have been prevented had the agency been more careful with the cases, monitoring children they were supposed to and investigating cases that needed to be considered.
An important part of the investigation was the examining of documents having to do with the deaths. “The Post obtained the previously undisclosed records of the child death reviews: death certificates, police reports, autopsies, caseworker notes, hospital records and internal death summaries,” the reporters wrote in their article. These records opened the door to more information than reporters had obtained before, opening doors to sources who could not only verify the information, but who could shed more light on the stories the documents could only begin to tell.
For more information on investigating the disadvantaged check out “The Investigative Reporter’s Handbook” by Brant Houston and Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.