The Downside of Opening Children's Courts in L.A.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Government transparency is a recognized good, but can it go too far? Will allowing more reporters in Los Angeles' Dependency Courts put already vulnerable children at risk? Brooke speaks with Chantel Johnson, a legislative and policy coordinator at California Youth Connection. Johnson says her organization would like to see children decide whether media are allowed in the courtroom.

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Comments [1]

Richard Wexler from Alexandria VA

Given her personal experience, Ms. Johnson’s fears are understandable. But she speaks as though Los Angeles is the first place ever to open these courts.

In fact, more than a dozen states including all of the largest except California, allow reporters into these hearings. Nearly half of America’s foster children live in places where these hearings are open, and none of the fears Ms. Johnson expressed as become reality.

That’s why foster youth groups in New York City, for example, have not protested the open courts there. The lawyers who represent parents and children, who were wary at the beginning, now fully support open hearings.

My organization is highly critical of how media cover child welfare – in fact, one of those of whom we are most critical is Garrett Therolf of the LA Times. But the one thing reporters are 99.9 percent sure to get right is not revealing the identities of children in these cases, just as they almost never reveal the identities of adult rape victims.

And Ms. Johnson is simply wrong in claiming that opening court hearings won’t improve child welfare. It *has* led to improvements in other states, and to big improvements in the outcomes for individual cases. If Ms. Johnson's fears are allowed to triumph over knowledge and experience, and these cases are closed again, it only increases the odds that more children will suffer as she did.

We have an overview of the issue in general in our Due Process Agenda on our website here: and a series of posts about the situation in LA on our Child Welfare Blog here:

Richard Wexler
Executive Director
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

Feb. 19 2012 07:38 PM

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