In most states, child welfare hearings and records are sealed or confidential. This means that by law, court hearings and records may not be observed. The same laws and court rules also preclude those who are authorized to enter and watch from discussing anything learned or observed in a closed courtroom or from a sealed court record with anyone not involved in the case. It is the restriction on speech—on telling stories about child welfare—with which this Article is concerned. I will argue in this Article that the insights of narrative theory and agenda-setting studies help us understand the damaging consequences of confidentiality laws. These laws perpetuate and strengthen the limited view the press and public have of maltreated children, their parents, and the family court system, precluding other narratives from competing for preeminence and from informing or influencing the master narrative. Stated simply, laws prohibiting the discussion of child welfare cases silence a vast number of stories. By their terms, these laws define the stories that may not be told, and the putative storytellers who may not speak, while designating as acceptable other stories and other voices. The unchallenged dominance of the law-sanctioned narrative affects even those involved in child welfare as a profession, and by affecting their worldview, diminishes the quality of care provided to children. The laws that require silence outside the courtroom permit the acceptance of pervasive dysfunction in child welfare, and affect the administration of justice inside the courtroom.
Matthew I. Fraidin,
Stories Told and Untold: Confidentiality Laws and the Master Narrative of Child Welfare,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol63/iss1/2