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WFSU Public Media News Director Chosen For Prestigious Reporting Award Grant

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The pandemic is blamed as Florida sees a drop in student test scores across all subjects.

TALLAHASSEE, FL - WFSU News Director Lynn Hatter has been awarded a grant by the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism and named a 2020 National Fellow, one of 23 journalists from across the nation chosen to participate in the Health Journalism Fellowship program this year.

USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism's 2020 National Fellowship offers training, grants and six months of mentoring to help journalists and their newsrooms report deeply and authoritatively on the health, welfare and well-being of vulnerable children, youth, families and communities.

For the 2020 National Fellowship, the Center solicited project proposals to investigate and explore the racial, ethnic and geographic health disparities that are emerging each day for vulnerable children, youth and families. Many of the participants’ projects will focus on the recent impact of COVID-19, looking into unequal access to economic relief and recovery opportunities, the performance of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit organizations during the crisis, how communities of color are faring differently, and what risks “essential workers” continue to face. Other projects will investigate policy options to address the longstanding weaknesses in our social safety net that have been thrown into sharp relief by this crisis and that create uneven outcomes and opportunities for our nation’s families.

Ms. Hatter’s proposed series of reporting will explore the mental health of our youth population, and specifically the increased rate at which children are being “committed” or “Baker Acted” in the State of Florida. According to a 2018 report by the Florida Department of Children and Families, between 2001 and 2016 the number of involuntary examinations for children under 18 increased by 118%.

There are observed ties between the use of the Baker Act in children, and those who live in poverty, rural areas, and those with reported disabilities. Instances of committing children to mental health facilities have been found in schools both rural and urban. Florida’s capital county, Leon, holds one of the highest increases in involuntary commission of children. The county has a large amount of racial segregation as evidenced by the re-segregation of its public schools. Bay County, home to Panama City, also saw a sharp increase in the number of children being committed following 2018’s devastating Hurricane Michael.

Ms. Hatter has proposed a multi-media and multi-faceted project that will ask what happens when kids are institutionalized. This work will attempt to answer what happens when the state decides to commit a child, and explore which demographics are disproportionately Baker Acted, why, and what the long-term implications entail. Co-published and edited by WUSF Public Media/Health News Florida, the project will be shared with Florida Public Media stations across the state by year’s end.

The 2020 National Fellowship is funded by generous grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism. The Center also receives core support from The California Endowment.