Transforming the Child Welfare Narrative

The Challenge

The current child welfare narrative is demonstrated in media stories that largely focus on child deaths and the most extreme cases of physical and sexual abuse. Most news stories suggest that children are in foster care because of inhumane or incompetent caregivers who commit abuse or intentionally ignore a child’s needs. In reality, 75% of child welfare cases are categorized as “neglect,” and come to the attention of the system primarily due to factors related to poverty such as homelessness. A family’s experience of poverty alone does not mean that parents lack the ability to care for, love, or protect their children. On the contrary, a more accurate narrative reveals that the public systems charged with serving families often fail to proactively support parents who are struggling. In addition, current media reporting frequently reinforces extreme narratives that can lead to the over-surveillance and disproportionate separation of Black children and their families.

The Project

Through his Stoneleigh Fellowship, Steve Volk is partnering with Resolve Philly to transform how child welfare is reported on in Philadelphia and nationally by deepening the media narrative, advancing solutions, and elevating the perspectives of those most impacted by the system. Steve will lead this effort through his own journalistic reporting, and through a comprehensive media change strategy.

The Stoneleigh Fellowship will enable Steve to:

  • Develop journalistic tools, resources, and research in collaboration with Resolve Philly. This effort will be informed by a retrospective media audit examining the language, depth, subject matter focus, and frequency of child welfare coverage in Philadelphia and in national markets.
  • Build a new, replicable model for community-powered journalism. This is a first-of-its-kind, field-building approach to journalism that centers solutions and is guided by community voices.
  • Change journalistic practice by growing the accuracy and scale of coverage of the child welfare system and modeling a more equitable and solutions-oriented approach to journalism that can be replicated and extended by his peers.

Steve Volk

Stoneleigh Fellow

2022 – 2025

Resolve Philly


Project Updates