AP investigative reporters Garance Burke, Martha Mendoza and Juliet Linderman, and Los Angeles video journalist Krysta Fauria, broke news of dozens of unredacted legal claims seeking more than $200 million in damages for trauma and abuse alleged by parents and their children who had been separated at the border; these included children who were sexually molested by other children in foster homes.
The administrative claims shared with The Associated Press were heartbreaking: Young children pulled from their parents’ arms by government agents were sent to foster homes and residential shelters where they suffered sexual and other physical and emotional abuse. Working closely with editor Ron Nixon, the reporters homed in on what was – and what wasn’t – news. Their focus was on the high cost of the claims: more than $200 million for 38 claims is just “the tip of the iceberg” said lawyers. And this was the first report that these separated children in foster homes – considered safer and healthier – had been sexually molested.
The story ran with exclusive photographs and video of a father whose young son, whose heart was failing, was put in a foster home where he was molested by other children.
The reporting was challenging: it was critical to not reveal names of the claimants, whose lives could be endangered by the disclosure. But at the same time, the reporters, working in collaboration with PBS “Frontline,” wanted an on-camera interview with one of the claimants. In addition, new claims continued to roll in as they worked on the story. With persistence and patience, the team managed to get the interview, protect privacy and add new details even as the story was rolling out. The package received widespread attention, including tweets from Jake Tapper and Monica Lewinsky. Burke was interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and Mendoza on PBS “NewsHour.”