Are the Kids Alright? Wins Emmy for Best Documentary
September 1, 2005
Are the Kids Alright? Stories of Children's Mental Health in Texas was awarded a Lone Star Emmy in the "Outstanding Documentary Program" category during the third annual Lone Star Emmy Awards gala in October.
The film, which chronicles the struggles facing Texas children with mental illnesses, was the first statewide television documentary in Texas to address issues surrounding children's mental health care. The Emmy award judges' panel chose it from more than 1,050 statewide entries.
Produced by award-winning documentarians Karen Bernstein and Ellen Spiro of Austin, the hour-long film was broadcast on public television stations across the state on June 24, 2004 and again in April of 2005. It was the product of nearly two years of research and interviews to understand the multifaceted issues and tough decisions confronting the state's mental health system. The film also represented an extraordinary level of collaboration and innovative partnership among Mobilus Media; the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health; The University of Texas at Austin's Department of Radio, Television and Film; HoustonPBS; the Houston Endowment; and the Austin Film Society.
In addition, twelve of the state's thirteen PBS stations carried the documentary, and several of the stations – including KLRU in Austin, KACV in Amarillo, KMBH in Harlingen, KUHT in Houston, KNCT in Killeen, KWBU in Waco, and KOCV in Odessa – produced their own special programs on the mental health needs of children in their communities in conjunction with the documentary that included local mental health professionals, families, and children's advocates.
Local programming was supported by a $100,000 award from the Meadows Foundation of Dallas as part of a comprehensive public information campaign conducted by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The outreach effort included informational brochures, an extensive web site, and a media information campaign, which all seek to raise public awareness of children's mental health issues in Texas, improve understanding about the appropriate diagnosis and treatment of emotional disorders, and describe the gaps within the fractured public mental health system in the state.
The statewide Lone Star Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences serves all 19 television markets in Texas and bestows Emmys annually to recognize creative excellence; to advance the arts and sciences of television; and to promote leadership for artistic, educational, and technical achievements in television.
The narrative of Are the Kids Alright? unfolds through the stories of children, therapists, parents, and judges who confront the issues of children with mental illnesses on a daily basis. The documentary not only portrays the steep obstacles and painful choices confronting families who have a loved one suffering from mental illness, but the daily struggles of mental health advocates, service providers, and policymakers in helping youths get treatment.
"The tremendous level of participation by Texas PBS stations had a lot to do with the impact the documentary has produced," according to Jeffery R. Patterson, communications director of the Hogg Foundation and an advisor to the film. "The response to this film is truly a testament to the compassion and skill of the filmmakers. Karen has a great ability to engender trust and openness in the folks who shared their lives to illustrate the conditions families face when dealing with a child who has a behavioral disorder," Patterson said.
The documentary does more than trace a lack of public and private funding as a source of the problem. By following the stories of affected families, the filmmakers illustrate the complexities of mental illnesses and the pervasiveness of how many children are suffering from them. State officials estimate that some 420,000 Texas youths under the age of 18 suffer from a severe emotional disturbance that impairs their ability to function, but only a fraction of these children are appropriately diagnosed or treated each year.
"Although we connected with families from different backgrounds and regions in the state, their stories were surprisingly similar. All of them faced frustrations, misunderstandings, and a lack of resources in trying to get help for their children," said Bernstein.