The Armored Glass Girl

The Armored Glass Girl

Organisation: Aftonbladet (Sweden)

Publication Date: 04/10/2017

Size of team/newsroom:large


Kerstin Weigl has uncovered previously unknown, scandalous conditions within the Swedish child welfare system – where children with special needs were forced into the custody of Swedish social services and subjected to inhumane treatment as a result of the failure of government authorities to successfully coordinate such cases or take responsibility for their errors. 
A thorough investigation of one of these cases, that of 14-year-old Josefin, who was taken into custody by social services at the age of one, has exposed how the system can fail: In her short life, Josefin has been relocated 33 times to various foster homes and facilities in 21 different areas in ten different Swedish counties, and there have been many suicide attempts and repeated instances of police involvement and medical restraint. 

From the age of nine she has been described by the authorities as “dangerous”. The authorities’ final solution has been to keep 14-year-old Josefin in a secured facility with armored glass and a staff of eight care workers.

 Over the course of four months, Kerstin Weigl examined all the documents for the case of Josefin. Social services records and medical records were compared with court documents and other documents, and interviews were conducted with experts and government representatives.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Foster care for children is a difficult area to investigate, but with “The Armored Glass Girl”, Kerstin Weigl has exposed a scandalous case of failure to protect a child placed in the custody of social services. A sensitive and unique presentation made this story one that could not be denied. The case attracted major attention from the day the story was published, when over two million readers were affected by Josefin’s story, which was widely quoted in the national media for several days. Several experts and authorities made furious claims of how children with difficulties are made sicker from the mismanagement of the authorities. That same day, there were strong reactions from the responsible government minister demanding the relevant authorities assume responsibility for their shortcomings. The case of Josefin is now subject to a special investigation.

 Through sensitive and poignant storytelling, the story reached two million online visitors on the first day. The reporting was presented in the form of both a 23-minute long documentary with Kerstin Weigl’s text and narrator voice in the foreground and images by illustrator/producer Jenny Svennberg Bunnel and photographer Magnus Wennman. The second supporting part of the story was a digitally-presented review of each of the social services placements of Josefin. The innovative documentary was seen by 600,000 viewers.

Technologies used for this project:

By systematizing and color coding the data in an Excel spreadsheet, Kerstin Weigl systematically uncovered how the Swedish child welfare system failed Josefin.
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