Leonard Witt

Truth Telling: Civil Rights Era to JJIE.org

Our Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, JJIE.org, has its roots in part in The Race Beat, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book co-written by Hank Klibanoff, former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I was taken by how important it was for the press to shine a spotlight on the injustices taking place in the South before and during the Civil Rights era. Today that same kind of spotlight must be shone on the juvenile justice system, which, with its share of injustices, remains in the shadows of the collective American consciousness. When John Fleming came our way as the prospective editor of the JJIE.org, I knew he was a kindred spirit who cares deeply about high quality, ethically sound journalism and equal justice for all. That dual commitment is illustrated in his just published essay in the Nieman Reports entitled: Compelled to Remember What Others Want to Forget.

Michelle Barclay and Mary Hermann on A Foster Child Pining for his Mother

Logan* was five when he entered foster care for the second time. Nine years later, at 14, he’s still in foster care.  This Georgia boy’s long stay in the foster care system started when his mother signed a temporary voluntary relinquishment of her parental rights because of her alcohol and drug abuse. Back then, the plan was to have Logan stay in foster care or placed with relatives while she worked on her rehabilitation.  The goal was to reunify the family and the plan didn’t change. Logan has had seven placements while in foster care.  Today, he lives in a group home and has a close relationship with the director of that home and his court appointed special advocate.  He has also maintained a bond with his mother over all this time. They talk by phone, have weekly family counseling by phone and last summer he spent a week in her home in Texas. Logan’s mother has changed and improved her situation over the last nine years.  She is no longer using drugs and she has had another child whom she is raising in Texas. She is fragile, but has been fairly stable for six years. She expresses affection for Logan, something that has sustained him during all these years of being so alone.

Michelle Barclay and Patricia Buonodono On Danielle’s Story

*Danielle was born HIV positive. Her mother, while constantly in and out of jail, abused alcohol while pregnant with her. Her father couldn’t manage to care for her, often forgetting to give her the HIV medications she needed to survive. She was a year old when she entered foster care. Her father had finally given up, dropping her off at an AIDS clinic, saying he couldn’t handle it any more.

Michelle Barclay: Cold Case Teen Finds Forever Family Just in Time for Christmas

As I drove up to Goshen Valley Boy’s Ranch in the pouring rain with Sue Badeau from Casey Family Programs in the seat beside me at 8pm, I had moments of doubt. I asked James’ case manager earlier in the day, “Is James OK with seeing us tonight?”

“About as excited as a 15 year old boy can be,” she answered, which did not comfort me. When we arrived at the lovely but lonely set of houses set in a wide expanse of woods and views, we were informed that James* had gone to bed, disappointed that we had failed to show way past the agreed upon hour.   But he did come out and joined us for a two-hour conversation about his permanency goals. We had gotten permission for Sue to do permanency counseling with James.

Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act

A wrenching story of abuse and neglect appears on the op-ed page of Thursday’s AJC.  And State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-DeKalb) makes the case for reviewing how much medication is used to control the behavior of children in foster care. Oliver writes about a little boy who endured a crushing family tragedy and was abandoned by his parents while in first grade. Now he’s 13, living in an institution and heavily medicated with psychotropic drugs. His story is one of more than 200 cases detailed in the Cold Case Project, sponsored by the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice for Children.