Times investigative reporter Marisa Kwiatkowski has won a national public service award for her ongoing series detailing Indiana's fragmented system of providing services to children in need of state services.
The Sigma Delta Chi public service award, announced Tuesday by the national chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, was awarded for Kwiatkowski's series titled "Children in Peril."
Kwiatkowski won in the 50,000-100,000 daily circulation category.
Her series revealed families throughout Indiana struggling to find services for children with severe mental illnesses or developmental disabilities and a fragmented state system that was failing children.
It revealed cases in which children ended up in the juvenile justice system rather than receiving needed mental health services. It also revealed parents who were forced to plead guilty to neglect charges to obtain services for their children — even though they had been diligent in the care they provided.
In response to The Times series, state officials pledged about $25 million in funding to help fix the problem, and dialogue has begun statewide among lawmakers and social service agencies.
In a nomination letter for Kwiatkowski's series, Times Investigative Editor Marc Chase wrote of the challenges Kwiatkowski faced in tackling the series.
"It is difficult to tackle stories about issues involving children who have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities because relevant juvenile court records are confidential, and families are afraid of what may happen to their children if parents speak out," Chase wrote.
Times Executive Editor William Nangle lauded Kwiatkowski's efforts for helping to affect positive change in the state.
"Marisa’s periodic series focused on the state’s broken program designed to address the needs of abused and neglected children," Nangle wrote in a staff email Tuesday. "As a result of her reporting, changes to programs and operations of the Indiana Department of Child Services are underway."
In addition to the national award, Kwiatkowski also recently won first place for coverage of children's issues from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.