A New Digital Library to Help Train Social Workers, Attorneys on Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice

Karen Grau’s Calamari Productions has filmed thousands of hours of court hearings and other critical moments in the child welfare and juvenile justice system since its founding in 1998. Photo by Calamari Productions.

A trove of court and casework footage is now available for agencies and universities looking to make child welfare and juvenile justice training more dynamic.

Calamari Productions, the small production company quietly behind several award-winning documentaries and TV shows about those two fields, has made its massive archive of system-related footage available for educational licensing through “Calamari in the Classroom.”

“We’ve been so cautious for the past 20 years, but we get inundated with calls, especially from universities, about, ‘How do we get this in our classrooms?’” said Calamari CEO Karen Grau, who founded the company in 1998 with her husband, Larry. “It’s been driving me crazy that we’re either in production or just don’t have time to do what everyone would like to see.”

Calamari is responsible for the MTV series “Juvies,” and a score of news documentaries including “Kids in Crisis,” “Lake County Juvenile Justice” and “In The Child’s Best Interest.” The latter, which focuses on youth who were victimized and then became victimizers, won Calamari an Emmy and an Edward R. Murrow Award. Grau said Calamari is currently working on a project focused on the opioid epidemic

Youth Services Insider’s personal favorite from the Calamari collection is “Children of the Dumping Ground,” which follows a boy named Justin down a nonsensical path that bounces him from child welfare to juvenile justice for no reason other than perverted fiscal drivers. Click here for our profile on the film.

In the company’s early days, Grau gained unprecedented access to the Indiana child and family court system. Since then, the company has relocated to California, and has filmed in courtrooms around the country.

“We have thousands of hours of content, everything from inside the abuse and neglect court to attorneys consulting with clients and kids in detention,” said Grau.

The company has refined that archive, and film from other courts, and compiled them into edited runs of footage on various keyword-searchable subjects. It has had a more modest licensing agreement with Indiana University for years; this new effort expands the available archive and makes it available globally.

The thorniest issue in developing the collections was how to couch “what not to do” footage, of which she said there is plenty.

“For each video, there’s a descriptor,” Grau said. “It won’t say, ‘this person is doing a crappy job,’ but it will note that ‘this has been used to demonstrate bad practice.’”


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John Kelly
About John Kelly 985 Articles
John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.