AJAs 2017 Finalists


Slug/Label The Lost Children
Date Aired or Published March 13, 2017
Media outlet where first aired or published: CBC News
Name of Program: CBC.ca/nb
If co-produced, list partner:
Location: Fredericton
List awards, grants: n/a
Running time (TV/Radio):

Short explanation of the story and how it developed:

Mona Sock’s story was a government secret for nearly a decade. The 13-year-old girl took her own life behind a rec centre on Elsipogtog First Nation in 2007. The provincial government reviewed Mona’s death, but never told the public how she died or how the system failed her. A First Nations child welfare agency placed Mona in a foster home with a convicted sex offender, who would sexually abuse her. No one did a background check on the man. This was revealed for the first time in The Lost Children, a CBC New Brunswick investigation into the deaths of children known to child welfare officials, and the government policies keeping them a secret. The end result was a legislative change that we hope can help save at-risk children in the future. The investigation began with a simple question: How many children have died under government care? Could anything have been done to save them? The provincial government denied multiple access to information requests and interviews about deaths in care. But we wouldn’t accept that as the final answer. We started working backwards to piece together the puzzle. We went all the way back to 1996, when a little girl named Jackie Brewer died inside a dark Saint John apartment. Jackie’s death by neglect horrified the province and prompted the creation of the child death review committee. It was meant to prevent another Jackie. But it didn’t. Our investigation revealed that more than 53 children have died from unnatural causes since 1997. It failed Jackie and Mona, but also Juli-Anna, Baby Russell and countless others whose stories remain unknown. We scoured hundreds of pages of newspaper clippings, old video, court documents and other records to learn more about these children. We decided to profile four of them and drove across the province, interviewing relatives, lawyers and visiting their final resting places - whether it’s a grave site or a piece of yellow police tape, left behind in the middle of the woods. Our work forced the government to launch a review of its child death review system. In December, it overhauled the child death review committee. The changes include more public reporting. People will now know more about how at-risk children are dying, including the child’s cause of death. Our stories also prompted the community to install a memorial to Jackie Brewer inside a south end playground, where her story will live on. These stories were difficult to tell, but we believe we did an important public service by sticking with this one. We hope it will help prevent another Jackie or Mona. -Karissa Donkin and Shane Fowler

Resources of the newsroom (money and time) available to complete the story:

The Lost Children was a huge undertaking and involved our whole newsroom. Associate producer Karissa Donkin works in our Atlantic investigative unit and was able to work on the project full time, while Shane Fowler worked on this story in between his regular night reporting shifts. Karissa and Shane travelled the province as a two-person team over several months, trudging through the woods and into graveyards. Shane even went as far as Arizona to track down Sherry Bordage, Jackie’s aunt and the person who tried to save her. We put special focus and thought into how to tell these stories online. We decided to file several news stories for web, but also wanted to write four profiles of the children who died. We also crafted several social videos for Facebook for each child, along with videos that explained how the child death review system worked and how much bureaucracy we had to cut through to tell these stories. When the stories came out, we hosted a Facebook live event to answer readers' questions. Countless other people in our newsroom took time away from their regular duties to work on this project, many in their free time. That includes copy editor Connie Camp, who carefully reviewed every word of our web stories and wrote headlines that sung, and social presenter Paul Hantiuk, who helped give the children a voice through his social videos. We’re glad CBC News felt this project was worthwhile and hope this shows how much CBC values and prioritizes investigative journalism. -Karissa Donkin and Shane Fowler

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