By Ariel Neidermeier
These days, Lisa Ling is not only busy promoting her new CNN docu-series This Is Life, she’s also working to raise awareness for vulnerable youth in the child welfare system. Ling emceed Late Night with FMC Thursday night in San Francisco, a fundraising event thrown by Fostering Media Connections. FMC is a nonprofit devoted to improving the lives of vulnerable youth through solution-based journalism.
In July, the Oprah Winfrey Network aired an episode of Ling’s docu-series Our America that centered on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. Fostering Media Connections Executive Director, Daniel Heimpel, was a co-producer of the episode.
The intimate event which included the FMC team and many former foster youth children turned advocates, was held at FMC’s headquarters in the Presidio. The presentation began with a short clip of Ling’s episode from Our America and then a mock late-night talk show in which former foster youth children were interviewed by Ling about their struggles, as well as triumphs, in the the foster care system. In one segment, Ling interviewed three brothers whose story of hardship and escape from the foster care system in San Diego was featured in FMC’s Chronicle for Social Change. The group created the online periodical to cover stories of juvenile justice and child welfare in a fuller and nuanced way, rather than simply presenting the isolated tragedies that often dominate the mainstream media’s reporting on foster care.
The three brothers were placed in the San Diego foster care system after suffering abusive behavior from their Grandmother. They attempted to escape social workers for fear of being separated. In the end, they were placed in foster care and separated from each other, with each brother experiencing very different outcomes from the system. One of the brothers, Joseph, became the valedictorian of his high school and was accepted at UC Berkeley, where he is in his second year. However, Joseph’s brothers, Terrick and Matt, ended up homeless on the streets of San Diego and Terrick spent time in juvenile hall after stealing a car. The brothers’ stories highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the foster care system.
Ling also spoke a few personal words about the research and work that went on behind the foster care episode, including her surprise at the unprecedented access they were able to receive from the victims of the foster care system.
It’s incredible to me how much access people gave to [my team] into their lives and stories of hardship. But, they know that it’s not in our interest to exploit them. They trust us to tell their stories accurately.
Ling also said she hopes the episode raises awareness about the flaws in the system.
My hope with the show is that it generates conversation, pushing people to think about the issues and provoking change.
You can watch Ling’s expose of the flaws in the child welfare system on the Oprah Winfrey Network.