National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section, honored Courier-Journal (C-J) reporter Deborah Yetter with the David Richart Pathway to Justice for Children Award at a program held on Wednesday, October 28, at The Temple.
Section President Joyce Bridge began the proceedings by recognizing Courier-Journal Editor Wes Jackson, former judge Jerry Bowles, State Representative Tom Burch and others who have assisted NCJW in its efforts to help better the lives of women, children and families for over 125 years.
Beth Salamon, state policy advocate for NCJW in Kentucky, reiterated the section’s core belief that progressive ideals put into action can improve the world. In 1975, NCJW and the late David Richart co-sponsored creation of Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA), to be the independent voice of Kentucky’s children. Richart became KYA’s founding executive director, and when he died in 2011, NCJW established a committee in his name to advocate for the state’s children and recognize those who have worked on their behalf.
In 2014, the Richart Committee hosted a three-part educational series on the Kentucky’s Child Welfare System and reported that transparency is critical to overseeing the child welfare system and holding those involved accountable.
The committee has been advocating for several bills and recently filed an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief in a lawsuit filed by the C-J and the Lexington Herald against the Cabinet for Health and Human Services seeking records of cases where abuse and neglect resulted in child fatality or near fatality. The case had been argued earlier in the day by C-J attorney Jon Fleischaker and a decision is expected in 30-60 days.
Former C-J editor Pam Platt, presented the Richart Award to Yetter. “Debbie never stops,” Platt noted. “She documents, studies, researches, interviews and uses that information to write editorials. Her work has saved lives and her dedication to craft reflects glorious and heroic work.”
Yetter began her remarks by thanking NCJW for its longtime efforts to make life better for Kentucky’s children. She recalled sitting in the audience in 2012 when Representative Burch received the inaugural Pathways Award and was humbled to be the second recipient.
She traced her involvement with the state welfare system to a single case involving a youth in state custody who became a juvenile offender for continually running away. His public defender, Harry Rothgerber, who also was a KYA founder and served on its board for many years, asked her to research the case and she found the organization an invaluable resource for her work on that report and for others as well.
“That led me to David,” she said, “who understood the state’s child welfare system and could speak as an independent advocate.” She went on to write what became an ongoing series of stories about the state’s troubled child protection system – issues that continue to this day. A reporter for more than 30 years, Yetter has spent much of that time covering child abuse, neglect, social services and juvenile justice.
“In thinking about David,” she said, “the Council and this award, it struck me how events and people in our lives intertwine, in this case for the common good. Here I am some 20 years later accepting an award named after David from NCJW, which helped found Kentucky Youth Advocates along with Harry and many others.
“In the interim,” she continued, “Kentucky Youth Advocates has grown into a highly respected, independent research, policy and advocacy group for Kentucky’s children and the Council deserves credit for its vision in helping to organize it nearly 40 years ago.
“This morning,” she added, “I joined with others in Lexington to hear The Courier-Journal, Herald Leader and Todd County Standard argue before the state Court of Appeals over whether the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services can withhold certain information in the cases of children who die or are nearly killed from abuse or neglect. Both gubernatorial candidates promise change by dividing the Cabinet into several parts.”
“I would like to say the system today is better and in many ways it is,” Yetter observed. “But all of you involved in this field know of the acute shortage of resources for children and families and the near-crisis conditions of the state social service system that spill into family courts every day. The only real way to force officials and the public to acknowledge this, I believe, is to force them to look at it. And the best way to do that is through access to courts and records of cases.”
The Richart Committee is co-chaired by Jane Emke and Sonia Levine.