There Must Be a Witness

Stories of Abuse, Advocacy, and the Fight to Put Children First

Sue Bell Cobb

With Nick Cenegy

Title Details

Pages: 232

Illustrations: 20 photos

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 05/01/2018

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8346-4

List Price: $25.95


Pub Date: 05/01/2018

ISBN: 9-781-6030-6455-2

List Price: $25.95


NewSouth Books

There Must Be a Witness

Stories of Abuse, Advocacy, and the Fight to Put Children First

Sue Bell Cobb

With Nick Cenegy

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  • Description
  • Reviews

True child advocates are not born, they are forged out of frustration and faith. There Must Be A Witness profiles a group of child advocates in Alabama who have devoted themselves to help children thrive—and by extension, to better meet the needs of their communities. This collection of stories, narrated by Sue Bell Cobb, the state’s first female Chief Justice and a former juvenile court judge, draws back the curtain on what drives such advocates. In the case of Liz Huntley, a prominent Birmingham lawyer, and Roberta Crenshaw, a former prison lay counselor, advocacy grew out of enduring the most horrific abuse. For Jannah Bailey, the director of Child Protect, her calling has always been to stand between children and violence. Cobb’s own life of advocacy stems from what she saw in courtrooms across Alabama. As a jurist she was bound to serve the law, but as an advocate she championed some of the state’s most sweeping child policy reforms in recent decades, including a toe-to-toe fight with back-slapping tobacco company lobbyists. Along the way she was humbled by the inspiring group of child advocates she met digging firebreaks against poverty, child abuse and neglect, inadequate medical care, and shortcomings in education. Collectively, the stories included in this volume call us to stand witness and testify to policymakers on behalf of children—to insist that government be used as a force for good in people’s lives.

Violence against our children wounds us all. It’s infuriating when our system fails to identify or officially acknowledge a child’s suffering in time to do something about it. Few failures are more frustrating than witnessing a child return to a home wracked by violence or sexual abuse—yet it happens all too often in courtrooms across the nation. The data for 2015 show that nationwide an estimated 683,000 children were victims of child abuse and neglect. Three-quarters of those were victims of neglect; 17 percent were physically abused, and over 8 percent were sexually abused. In addition, more than fifteen million children in our country are living in poverty—22 percent of the nation’s total child population. A little over 20 percent live in households where at times there is simply not enough to eat.

In recent years, the population of children in the South has grown substantially faster than in other regions, shifting added responsibility onto Southern leaders, too many of whom are more interested in “family values” posturing and anti-tax fanaticism than in actually governing for the greater good.

These circumstances demand next-generation policies that are smarter and more effective at both the national and state level. We need stateswomen and statesmen who recognize that success is not measured in election cycles but in building lean, healthy, effective institutions that improve people’s lives for generations to come. It is time for child advocates to bear witness.

Sue Bell Cobb made history as the first female Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, but what she saw in courtrooms drove her from podium to pulpit across the state and into the halls of the Alabama Legislature, fighting to secure some of the most important child policy reforms in decades. The women profiled in There Must Be a Witness are a few of the extraordinary advocates she met along the way. Their stories reveal the astonishing reach of human resilience. They also demonstrate the painful price of failing to protect the most vulnerable among us and are a testament to the profound dedication of true child advocates. Together, the stories in There Must Be a Witness call us all to join their fight.

Sue Bell Cobb's witness to the needs of our most vulnerable children and the short-sightedness of past attempts to address these needs presents a powerful call to action. Her narratives demonstrate that our failure to adequately attend to the effects of abuse and neglect on children and families dooms future generations to the personal, economic, and societal costs that flow from this trauma. Chief Justice Cobb persuasively summons us individually and collectively to advocate for these children who are without power and voice and in the process create a better world for all children and their families.

—Marsha Ternus, former Chief Justice, Iowa Supreme Court

A powerful reminder that children and women are too often neglected and abused, and then have their injuries compounded by the indifference or failure of the institutions that should protect them but don’t. There Must Be a Witness is also an object lesson that to get things changed for the better, we have to work and fight for what is right.

—Lilly Ledbetter, namesake of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act

I have waited for this story to be told by someone capable of leading the crusade that will open access and opportunity to all of Alabama’s children. Sue Bell Cobb is that person. She has the heart of a child, a wealth of experience, and a deep understanding of what is needed for future generations to reach their full potential. Her new book, a powerful account, offers a window into a world too often shrouded from view and demonstrates the critical importance that we live in a society that is truly “trauma informed."

—Kelley Parris, executive director, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Florida

This book is a must-read. It chronicles the stories of child advocates growing up in starkly different circumstances and reminds us all that we are the product of our birthright, good and bad. For the children who do not have parents to advocate and navigate for them, we must all step up to that role. Chief Justice Cobb’s experience resonates with my own, and I, too, feel compelled to bear witness to the circumstances of children and work to shape policies that truly do put children first. The stories of this book will touch every heart and inspire action.

—Rebecca Love Kourlis, executive director, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System

This marvelous book brings to life the world of child advocacy. And while written by a judge, it includes a wide-angle lens on child advocacy. It brings together the perspective of the judiciary, law enforcement, foster care, child welfare, and the voices of children themselves. It should be on the bookshelf of every family lawyer, judges, prosecutor, police, child welfare workers, and students in social work and criminal justice. It is a hard topic with hard stories, and yet it is hard to put this book down.

—Kevin Corcoran, PhD, JD, professor of social work, University of Alabama

There Must Be a Witness emphasizes that care for underserved or abused children is not a luxury we can choose to afford—it is a responsibility we should all share. The authors bypass the rhetoric and the anxieties that so often confuse this priority among Alabamians. Instead, Chief Justice Cobb and Cenegy use stories from Cobb's unprecedented career to plead for more proactive solutions. Beyond documenting examples of tragedy and triumph from Alabama's child advocacy services, the book doubles as a clarion call of what's possible for children—and for the future—in The Yellowhammer State.

—Josh Morgan, host, Plural of You

This book chronicles the ordinariness of horrific abuse harming children of all classes and races. It also captures the remarkable resiliency of those many who move beyond the harms they have suffered to support and protect others. Sue Bell Cobb and Nick Cenegy provide readers with more than good reasons to work to improve the lives of children by finding new resources ?and marshaling communities to insist on better services for children.

—Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School

This is an important work on the critical challenges our country and legal system face. Too many children in this country have been discarded, marginalized, and abandoned. With the analytical insight of a Supreme Court justice and the heart and passion of a loving parent, Sue Bell Cobb's book brings much-needed clarity to the urgent issues we need to confront to protect our children.

—Bryan Stevenson, founder, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)

About the Author/Editor

Sue Bell Cobb (Author)
Throughout a long and pioneering Alabama judiciary career, SUE BELL COBB has been an outspoken advocate for children. A former resident of Evergreen, Alabama, she was the first female Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and before that was the first woman elected to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Her thirty-year career on the bench began when she was appointed district judge of Conecuh County in 1981. She has devoted herself to juvenile justice, access to justice, public safety, and sentencing reform and has been a public advocate for those issues through appearances on NPR’s Fresh Air, Politico, and in the documentary Skewed Justice, and as an International Speaker for the US State Department. She earned history and law degrees with distinction from the University of Alabama. She was a founding member of the Children First Foundation, in addition to her many board memberships which have included the Conference of Chief Justices; Council of State Governments; and Alabama Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. She is a graduate of Leadership Alabama and was inducted into the National Voting Rights Women’s Hall of Fame. Her awards and honors include Stennis Center for Public Service Pacesetter; Prevent Child Abuse Lifetime Achievement Award; Children’s Voice Award; Alabama State Bar Judicial Award of Merit; Outstanding Public Official Award, Alabama Chapter of National Social Worker’s Association; Past State Board Chair and Volunteer of the Year, Alabama Division, American Cancer Society. She is married to William J. Cobb. They have three children (Bill, Andy and Caitlin) and three grandchildren (Olivia, Will, and Abigail).

Nick Cenegy (With)
Nick Cenegy is a Texas-based writer and former Knight Fellow of Community Journalism at the University of Alabama and the Anniston Star.