HBO released a documentary in time for national foster care month titled simply enough “Foster.” It is set in Los Angeles county and focuses on the LA county foster care system.
Let’s review it.
First, I will openly admit that I was skeptical. 100%. I believe it’s damn near impossible to make a film about this experience which captures it appropriately or which appropriately displays the problems in the system.
Second, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.
Third, every one of the foster children and survivors in the film were amazing and brave. It takes a lot of courage to be on camera and discuss the life they have lived.
Finally, and unfortunately, the film fails to move the needle in any direction.
Like all complicated social policy matters, the film makers chickened out on the hard issues. The viewer is left with a sense that whatever problems the system has, it’s the children who are responsible for their plight and perhaps a few good and caring judges, social workers or foster parents along the way.
The promotional material for this film emphasizes the “Oscar winning” film makers. One would be right in assuming they might have cast a critical eye to all involved. One would be wrong.
The film does not address, nor make any mention of, the turn over rate in foster homes, the systemic and common abuse of children IN the system, nor the failings of the social workers involved.
In fact, the film demonstrates several glaring problem with social workers in the system while failing to even notice that they caught it on tape. But I digress.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The film opens with a couple of statistics:
- CP agencies across the US receive about 4 million calls of neglect and abuse per year
- 1 in 8 children suffer a confirmed case of abuse or neglect by age 18.
The first scene centers on Ms. Beavers who has been a foster parent for 27 years. I am always skeptical when a foster parent is so out front with the children in their care. But much to my surprise, Ms. Beavers seems pretty awesome! She truly appears to care and love the children in her home, the ones who have passed through her home and the ones to (possibly) come. More importantly and to her credit, it is the children in her care who demonstrate the quality of care and love she provides. So, score one big point for Ms. Beavers and the children in her care. No problems here.
Krys’Lyn, and her parents, Raeanne and Chris
Next up, we have the first case to tug at your heart strings. Child protective services (CPS) receives a call. A baby girl has been born and her mother Raeanne, tested positive for cocaine exposure. The baby’s urine was negative, but the mandated reporter reporting the case to CPS explains that the nursing staff missed the first urine sample and they are waiting on the meconium (so that they can test that for exposure). So the viewer is left to assume…. what? Sunshine and rainbows?
By the way – the film NEVER comes back to this point and never states wether or not the baby’s meconium tested positive. And that is an important point. Because all through the film, the narrative that is built is that the baby must have had cocaine in her system and that this is all the result of a horrible mother who has lied to her baby’s father, and to CPS about her cocaine use.
In rewatching this particular segment one thing that caught my ear was a statement by the CPS worker involved with this case, “I always compare being a DCFS social worker like being in the marines. ‘Cause we’re out in the field in the front lines.”
Let’s stop here for just a second.
I understand where this social worker is coming from. I understand her intent is good. I understand her motives are (so far as she is aware,) pure. I get it. But in any system/business/organization/field of work, when you begin to see the people you serve as an adversary that you have to fight or control (the marine analogy), then you need to take a step back and re-think the premise of your work. Something is wrong in your organization or with the basic premise behind your work.
Viewing your work as akin to a war zone leads to you seeing the people you serve as an enemy, as people you cannot and should not trust. It heightens, or increases, the moral judgments. I get that many of the people this social worker is interfacing with are not truthful. They are not truthful because they fear what is going to happen. They know that they have been caught in a “punitive system” (I’ll come back to that phrase by the way). So this is the first place where the film makers fail to address the problems social workers have brought into their work.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, a call placed to CPS about a baby born to a mother whose urine tested positive for cocaine. Ok.
Here is what happens next.
In the film interview, Raeanne explains that she “used” cocaine in a moment of weakness. And she also explains that the father, Chris was unaware of this. And as you watch the film and you watch Chris and listen to him, you begin to see that he truly, by all accounts did not know. And so, if he didn’t know, he’s probably also not using.
Now, mom (Raeanne) rightly fears that her daughter is about to be taken. And because she knows that this is the punishment we mete out on (some) mothers who use (some) drugs, she asks Chris to also lie to CPS.
So, Chris lied for Raeanne at her request. You see just how naive and trusting he is. He is trying to protect his family.
And CPS assumed he was lying. The CPS worker tells Chris that CPS is “going for a removal order” and so he needs to be honest, “is she (Raeanne) using, does she have an addiction?” asks the CPS worker. And Chris says no.
Let’s stop again and consider what we have just seen.
A very well dressed, educated, young social worker has uttered the word “addiction” about a new mom. Addiction. She also said “user.” But she also said “addiction.” And while you may think I am parsing hairs here, I am not. There is a world of difference between a “user” and an “addict.”
I personally use alcohol. I am not an alcohol addict. And I hope I never am.
Putting aside which drugs are legal for use (by some people), this issue is important. Because there is a world of difference in the care and opportunity which can be provided for a casual “user” versus an “addict.” And there should be a world of difference in how we care for a new mother who uses a drug which has been declared illegal versus a new mother who is clearly an addict of that same drug.
So far, the film makers have allowed two things to slip by in this particular case (won’t be the last either). Failing to divulge the results of the meconium analysis, the viewer is left to assume that the baby had cocaine in her system (maybe she did, maybe she didn’t). And now the viewer has the word “addiction” assigned to the mother. Coupled with a very nicely dressed, young and bright social worker, the viewer’s judgment has already been made against this mother. Perhaps it should be. Perhaps it should not be.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, Chris (the father) is on the hot seat.
The CPS worker tells Chris that CPS is “going for a removal order” and so he needs to be honest, “is she (Raeanne) using, does she have an addiction?” asks the CPS worker.
What we do not hear – and I also assume was not really explained to this young and naive father – is the CPS worker informing Chris that the baby could be released to HIS custody if he comes clean. Perhaps the father could take a drug test to prove he is not using. (Perhaps we could do something besides take the baby, but that’s a whole other issue).
In this case, the film makers could have expanded on this dilemma. Was Chris given an option to take the baby home after testing negative for drugs, which he clearly does not use based on his complete unawareness of Raeanne’s use and his eventual custody of his new born daughter? Did the CPS worker explain all of this? Or did she continue to entrap Chris in this lie he is repeating because he wrongly thinks it will protect his child? After all, if you see the work you do as being in a war zone, why would you bother explaining all of this to the enemy?
The CPS worker explains that they could not release the baby to the father “based on the information we had at the time.” And just like in a war zone, she failed to look for the information she needed to release the baby to Chris. Instead of punishing him because of his covering for Raeanne, why didn’t they test his urine? Why didn’t they send a social worker to his house, as they would soon do after taking the baby? All of these things COULD be done IF the “system” decided to do them. And the film makers do NOT bother to go into this. All of the ensuing trauma COULD be avoided.
At 12 minutes into the film, we start the story of Mary an 18 year old foster survivor.
Mary explains her journey thusly: “I was born a drug baby. My mom was on cocaine, crystal meth. I got taken away, right away, and put into the foster care system. I went from home to home to home to home. Sometimes with my sister, sometimes not. Overall I have been in about, I dunno, 16, 17, 18 homes?”
So, Mary’s story is designed (by the film makers) to mirror the story of the new born we have just seen – Kris’Lyn. New born, placed in foster care at birth because of mom’s drug use.
But as we will later see, there is a world of difference between the two stories. Whereas Raeanne has admittedly used cocaine at times during pregnancy, we later learn that Mary’s mom was clearly on a much darker path. And while we learn about baby Kris’Lyn’s father (Chris), and how stable he is, we never hear about Mary’s father.
Now, you could say, “hey, doesn’t that show how DCFS is changing and working to meet the needs of each child in care? If Kris’Lyn (as we will see) ends up with her father and Mary never did, doesn’t that show that everything will work out?” And that is one way to look at it.
Another way to look at is is that this new born girl Kris’Lyn, never should have left her father’s arms. If CPS had taken a couple of small steps before removal, this baby could have avoided any trauma. Even if the baby is reunited with her father in a few days, the removal IS STILL TRAUMA!
Regardless, Mary is an amazing young adult. Through all of her experiences, she has the courage and stamina to explain her past to the film makers and to give us a glimpse of her life.
At 15 minutes, we get back to Ms. Beavers
And I have to agree again, that this lady has (apparently) given a lot of love to a lot of kids. I cannot (nor can anyone) vouch for every kid who has ever been in her care, but I can say that for me at least, the calmness in her voice, the kindness in her voice and her ability to compassionately explain the plight of the kids in her care speaks volumes of her intent. I am also sure she has lost her temper a few times, as every parent does.
At 19 minutes in, we’re back to Jessica Chandler
We saw Jessica briefly at the beginning of the film. She explained that she had been a child in the foster and juvenile court system. She explains how a divorce at age 8, followed by her mother’s breast cancer, changed the course of her life. Such is the plight of so many children in foster care.
The general public thinks all children are in care because of drugs, prostitution, poverty, etc. But these things are not so simple. Often a family is stable and caring until a tragedy befalls them. A tragedy with which we as a society will not help the family cope.
Now, a moment of truth for the viewer as Jessica explains during a drive through LA, “Majority of our children that we see live in poverty. They are minorities. (True in LA, and many large cities, not true everywhere). They come from single parent households. They come from families where there’s undiagnosed mental illness. These are the larger society’s problems that we haven’t addressed.”
Indeed. But the film makers don’t focus on that.
At 22 minutes, we’re introduced to Dasani, 16 years old.
Dasani is speaking with his Defense Attorney from the Children’s Defense Fund, Patrica Soung. And I gotta say, this lady impresses me the whole way through the film. She gets it. Dasani was placed on probation for an alleged fight at his group home. Dear God, can we just think about that for a second? Kids get in fights. Sadly, they do. But in foster care, you don’t get a time out or grounded. You get probation. Again – a “punitive system.”
Then, Dasani was detained in Juvenile hall for violating his probation on a number of allegations, including smoking marijuana. Yeah. Ok. 16 year old gets in a fight at a group home, is put on probation. He violates probation, down we go. But the attorneys from the Children’s Defense Fund are working to help him, and have some success. The court hearing goes well, and we move on.
At 27 minutes in we are at the first custody hearing for Kris’Lyn
The Children’s Law Center attorney Anna Rak, Los Angeles Depedency Lawyer Andrew Rifkin, representing the father, and Viator Ozoude, also Los Angeles Depedency Lawyer, representing the mother, are present and arguing for Chris to have custody of his child.
Chris is awarded custody.
And you see the absolute relief and also the absolute intense and devastating trauma inflicted on this mother for her mistakes following the custody hearing.
Raeanne then explains in the next scene how things in their life unfolded. “Everything just seemed to have hit us at one time. We lost our car, place, and me being pregnant, being homeless, I hit rock bottom. It was like ‘dang, take everything away from us to give us this blessing that we’ve been wanting for years. I made some bad decisions and I allowed that decision to take over me. I used cocaine the day before my water broke.”
Again, one tragedy. One mistake.
What can we say about ourselves as a society when we continually allow this to happen? Our social services policy and funding is what it is because the cruelty is the point. The cruelty drives the outcome. This is a case where the family never should have been put through this ordeal. A solution where the family are supervised as a unit in residential care facilities is a better solution, a less punitive solution, a healthier and less costly solution.
At 32 minutes, Redina Sheriff, Children’s social worker brings Kris’Lyn to her father late the same evening (or soon after the hearing, we aren’t told when it happens). And I am struck by something in particular by this lady – her motherhood.
In contrast to what will happen later, any parent can spot that this lady has been around children, around new parents and she understands them. She doesn’t come into Chris’ home and judge the environment. She is clearly happy for Chris, she let’s him hold the baby carrier the second they meet, she doesn’t ask him about any parental training, simply saying instead, “how are you with handling?” All with a respectful tone.
Chris says “you’re home now” to his daughter.
At this point it’s also clear that I’ve been watching foster porn. Let’s hope this changes.
At 34 minutes we’re back to Ms. Beavers and the children she has adopted and is caring for.
We meet Jake, 23 years old. Ms Beavers fostered him starting at age 3. After caring for him for several years, social workers started the process of trying to move him to an adoptive home. Instead, Ms. Beavers adopted him. Wonderful story. She is one of the foster parents you hear so much about who cannot believe the stupidity of the foster system in trying to move a child like Jake.
Another moment of truth for the viewer, again from Ms Beavers who says. “Once a kid is taken from their parent, if they didn’t have a issue before, they got one now. And that’s what I try to tell some of them social workers. I said, once you took that kid away, they gonna become bitter, they gonna become destructive, they gonna become angry. They gonna have a lot of problems wrong with them because you took them from their comfort zone, form their parents, from their school, from their friends. You took them away. And you expect them to become OK with that. They’re not.”
Amen says the non-theist! Why does it take 27 years of foster parenting, or former and traumatized foster children to explain this concept to fresh faced 20 something college grads who think they know what they are doing?
36 minutes in, back to Mary.
Mary is explaining that she doesn’t feel ready for college. It’s hard to imagine that. She presents herself as so very put together. And yet, I understand what she is feeling. It’s not the grades. She thinks it’s about the grades. It’s not. It’s the feeling and understanding that while you thought it would all change at 18 and things would magically be “normalized,” instead you begin to see just how isolated from the world you have been. Nothing in this moment that Mary describes is about her grades. She believes it is. But it’s not.
37 minutes in, discussion of Dasani’s foster parents’ abuse of Dasani.
Lanny Wilson, Children’s Law Center Case Manager, and Patricia Soung discuss the trauma Dasani has witnessed – his mother being murdered – living with a family friend for ten years – his adoptive/foster parents being “sick” of him and dumping him – literally – at DCFS.
And they are discussing how being a foster youth is the cause of his acting out, “Dasani is a foster youth, his delinquency is a product of that.” And there you go!
Lanny states it most clearly: “Everyone has a judgment on the youth and what they did and what they should do, but nobody is with them day to day.”
41 minutes in, Los Padrinos Group Home
Jessica is again continuing the story of her childhood. “As a probation youth, when you run away from placement, they put out a warrant out for your arrest.”
Jessica visits the room that was hers at Los Padrinos. Looking at the windows in the room, she comments, “I don’t know if I was really depressed or in a different room, I just don’t remember any light. Like ever. Besides the… (points to the ceiling light). I was in eternal darkness.”
Looking at the juvenille detention center – holy krap! Jessica is describing how degrading it is. And it is.
“To me it was so degrading and so awful that, I dunno, it’s just really hard to care about yourself when you’re being punished at that level.”
And what is so freaking infuriating is how the detention officer is describing Jessica when she was a youth in the center and how all the kids are told that no one loves them, they will never be anything, but she saw in Jessica that she could be one of the kids that could be saved. And there is the tell my friends, “this could be one of the kids that we could save.”
You made my point for me. It is this jacked up narrative which continues to fuel the heart of a dark and failing system – “one of the kids that we could save.” ONE. It’s an admission that most are already lost when they enter the system and that the system is not going to save them.
Why are we doing this? If we know they are lost, if we know that we can’t “save” them, then why do it? Is it just because we like the narrative of one out of 1,000 being saved? Does this make them a unicorn that we all revere? No, it doesn’t. You save one. And then at 18 or 21 they are still thrown in with the rest of us in this world and expected to perform as if nothing happened, because if they don’t perform like that – they are then lost and you never really saved them. We continue to pride ourselves on the “ones we saved.” The special ones. The unicorns. We predicate this entire system on these few “successful” survivors. We could achieve the same success rate by doing nothing. How successful is that?
Jessica was “saved.” She speaks of the people in her life who did “hold out hope for me.” Her story is not to be dismissed. I don’t speak lightly of it. I merely have to point out that this wonderful story cannot, should not, be the basis of a system that is producing results which are no better than random chance.
45 minutes, we see the supervised visit with Kris’Lyn’s mother Raeanee.
And Raeanne makes such a powerful point – this whole experience has taken not just her daughter from her but her partner as well due to the rules imposed by the state. How can we look at this and not realize that the same money, time and resources spent on fostering the WHOLE family as one, in one place, would have been a better outcome.
No doubt, this forced separation contributes to their eventual permanent separation at the end.
We continue with the personal stories of Raeanne and Chris and their childhood. No need to rehash the stories of these person’s lives. The did what they could, as best they could.
1 hour, 1 minute in, Lanny Wilson, Dasani’s Children’s Law Center Case Manager:
“The foster care system is a punative system. Punishment is just more hurt.”
I’m not sure people understand this point. And it’s perhaps the biggest reveal in the film. Foster care IS punitive. It IS punitive. It is punitive to the parents, and it is punitive to the children.
A non punitive system would care for the family. Would work to make the family whole by working with them as a whole. Instead, it breaks the family apart, no matter how fragmented it may have been before. It punishes the parents both by taking the child and by imposing penalties. It punishes the children by removing them from the family they know and shuffling them between care givers, some of whom, like Ms. Beavers are great, others who are not.
Yes, there are cases much more clear than that of Raeanne and Chris and Kris’Lyn. Cases where the abuse or neglect is clearly horrific and cannot be permitted to continue. But there are so many cases like that of Raeane and Chris where a change in approach could yield much better results.
Cases like Dasani’s are troubling, and prove the limits of the current foster care system. In Dasani’s case, he witnessed his mother’s murder at the age of 4. By a man presumed to be his father. He then lived with a family friend for several years, followed by what is clearly described as an abusive foster home. When that foster no longer wanted to provide care for him, they dumped him – literally – back at the door of DCFS.
Now, at 16 years of age, he is shuffling between group homes. He is smart. And he knows how ridiculous this all is. He knows that he is not going to be brought into a family to experience normalcy. Even if he does everything he is supposed to do from today forward, he will leave the system at 18, no family, no support. He knows this. All he is doing now is waiting. And that is the story of so many kids. They are not dumb. They know the end. And so they wait. The system failed Dasani in the initial placements and again now, just as it fails so many children.
1 hour, 5 minutes in, two Childrens Law Center investigators check on Kris’Lyn in her home with her dad.
You realize just how impossible and awkward it is for one human, or even two, to walk into a home and make an observation of another family. It’s just awkaward as hell.
What troubles me about the way these two ladies enter the room is how they strike me as non-parents. It’s how they move, how they keep their distance, how they seem uncomfortable. Does it matter if they have children? I dunno. But if you are going into a home with a newborn – to observe – I feel that you should have lived that experience because it can be complete chaos and frustration. Fortunately for Chris and his daughter, everything is in place and everything is calm and everything is clean.
As these two ladies are watching, Kris’Lyn becomes very still for about 11 seconds, staring off into space. As a parent, this is not unusual to see in newborn’s. It doesn’t mean there is brain damage or seizures. Babies sometimes just don’t do very much. And every child is absolutely unique. Sometimes, they just have a moment. And in any family where DCFS is not involved or observing, it would be unremarkable. And when Kris’Lyn starts moving again, she is perfectly happy and fine. No crying.
Remember, we’ve already been primed by the CPS worker at the beginning of the film with the word “addicted” and we never learn wether or not Raeanne’s meconium tested positive for cocaine. So, the next scene is with that in mind.
The supervisor tells Chris that he needs to see a neurologist because his daughter froze for a few seconds. And Chris does say that she “day dreams” often. But by all indications, everything else is normal – the baby is eating, is a healthy weight and otherwise normal. Again, in a family not under DCFS supervision, this would be unremarkable.
So, is this something that the doctor needs to know. NO! It’s not. She’s a one month old baby – they have moments where they simply lie still and do NOTHING! It happens. It’s normal.
Now, you may be thinking, “better safe than sorry, right.” Yeah. Sure. But babies also have acid reflux from time to time, some have it often and it can easily mirror a small seizure. Some babies have panic attacks as well. So sure, better safe than sorry. But also better educated than not!
So the doctor performs an EEG on the baby while DFCS is present. Not enough that they send Chris. No. They apparently need to be there as well. And hey, in a punitive system, if you can establish negative effects of drug use in a baby, well then you might have a better case for termination of parental rights! Nevermind that cocaine actually doesn’t work that way.
1 hour and 17 minutes into the film, we pick up Mary again.
Mary is struggling in school. She is debating changing schools, and her area of study. She is considering acting school. There is no judgment on my part about this. Only she knows what is right for her. But I suspect she is coming to terms with the thing that I also had to deal with, and it’s hard to put into words.
Up until age 18, you are both a victim of a punitive system (to use Lanny Wilson’s words) and protected by it to a certain degree. By protected, I don’t mean physically, emotionally, although that is supposed to happen and often does not. You are protected to a certain degree because you are a minor.
In elementary school, middle school, high school, everyone is on a somewhat even playing field. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not a very level field. But it’s more purposfully level than the world outside – there are routines, shared experiences, common courses that everyone takes, etc. This level of normalcy feels safe for kids, as any parent knows. But, for a child of the foster system, a level of normalcy at this age can make you feel as though you are finally, kind of, sort of, maybe, “normal.” You are lulled into feeling that maybe, just maybe you are kind of like a normal kid, in some way.
And then you turn 18. And whether you go to college, flee your foster home, or win the lottery, you are suddenly set free in an economically and emotionally competitive society that does not have time nor reason to give two flips about your background. You suddenly discover just how well off those other kids were. You see the sorting of peers – by peers – in real time and in a meaningful way that you did not see before. And you find yourself surrounded by a thousand triggering people and points. And it’s overwhelming. And I think that is what Mary is struggling with.
1 hour and 24 minutes in, we are watching Chris’ “Family Preservation Meeting.”
Can I just say that it’s some kind of Orwellian world when you break up a family, then hold a “Family Preservation Meeting.”
Chris begins to discuss his anger and he’s very clear headed about it and open with his emotions, but in a very mature manner. He shares his feelings about the neurology appointment.
And I have to wonder if the directors have left something out.
The idea that one instance of cocaine use, one day before birth can cause the baby to have seizures is just not what the medical literature supports. And, we don’t yet know the results of the EEG. But Chris has been led to believe now that his daughter’s instances of silence are the result of her mother’s actions rather than just a thing babies do. What a fun place to find oneself.
One of the case workers states how proud she is of Chris. Great! But no one said anything to mom about her efforts during this section we’ve been shown. No one says “Hey Raeanee, great job staying clean!” It either didn’t happen (they didn’t say anything positive), or the directors chose not to show it. Damnit. And we know she is “clean” because she’s testing the entire time as part of her case plan.
Raeanne explains all that she is doing, all the things that the court demanded, how she is testing clean, etc. No one seems to encourage her. No one says anything – at least that we are shown.
1 hour, 28 minutes in, we see Mary moving into transitional housing with her sister.
This is a great moment for Mary. A big moment. Some people may be shocked to see Mary so excited about a new mattress. You have no idea.
For a foster child to have something new like a mattress feels like the height of luxury. Your mattress, not one that 20 other people have slept on. Mary is concerned about removing the plastic from the mattress – is she allowed to? One small example of how life in foster care is for pretty much all foster children. Would you ever think to ask such questions about a mattress? Well, foster children do.
Mary explains that in most foster homes, you’re not allowed to sleep without a mattress cover. A social worker explains that’s because foster parents are afraid the child will wet the bed during sleep. And what sucks about that moment is that of course Mary knows that. Christ. She’s not dumb. The comment about bed wetting is condescending. It’s condescending because bed wetting isn’t the only reason foster parents cover mattresses, or car seats, or couches. They cover them because the see the foster child as dirty, as different.
1 hour and 32 minutes. We’re back at the neurologist’s office.
The neurologist explains that the EEG showed no evidence of any seizures. He goes on to explain – and I quote: “I have no evidence that cocaine exposure causes seizure or injured her brain in a fashion which would explain the seizure that she had. When we look at the best studies of infants exposed to cocaine, methamphetamines, the main thing we worry about is long term developmental issues and it’s something only time can tell. Every day, every week, every month that passes by, your daughter’s risk does go down and it makes me feel more reassured.”
This whole instance is simply the social worker who visited Chris not knowing a damned thing about neuro-diversity in infants and then sending the entire case management team and medical staff and the parents down a fucking rabbit hole. Damn it to hell.
And let me emphasize here – when the doc says “the seizure that she had” he is taking the word of the ladies who came in to Chris’ home for 30 minutes and happened to see an 11 second “freeze” in an infant. So the doctor is going with it because, well, I guess I would too. But it’s still not correct to call that a seizure. If you go back to the incident, the DCFS workers who witnessed the event didn’t say “OMG dawg, that’s a seizure.” No, they implied that something was wrong for a baby to freeze for 11 seconds and created the idea of a seizure and then (most likely) added “get EEG” to the case plan.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Raeanne and Chris are back in court.
They are awarded full custody of their daughter and the case is dismissed. Someone is heard saying “Congratulations!” Yeah, sure. I agree. Congratulations, you can have your daughter back! Aren’t we all great for taking her?
1 hour, 38 minutes, we see Jessica with her children again.
Jessica states that she doens’t want to throw away the child welfare system, she wants to reform it. She says, “There are other Jessica’s out there. My mission in life is to find me and to save me. I believe that there’s gonna be someone whose just waiting for someone to give them one more chance and that’s gonna be me.”
So, now we’re unicorn hunting.
She obviously benefited from the system and that is wonderful. She was lucky to have someone who chose to advocate for her – to “hold out hope” as she said earlier. But even her own statement lays bare the ugly truth that she is searching for a needle in a haystack, for another unicorn – for “the good story” – an implicit admission that all the other pieces of straw are not going to make it.
As the film ends, we’re back to Ms. Beavers.
And I do like how Ms Beavers ends the whole thing – “I teach my kids that… ‘love your mom and your dad’. They couldn’t take care of you guys, they have a problem. But you got to love them ’cause they’re your mom and your dad. Can’t not like them, say they’re not your mom, they are. I’m just filling in for them until they get beter. Some will get better and some won’t. But you have to hope they’re going to get better.” Girl, let me buy you a drink!
As for Raeanee, Chris and Kris’Lyn
It is noted at the end that Raeanee and Chris have separated, but that they have had no further contact with the foster system and Kris’Lyn has had no further health issues.
So, how does all this make me feel?
Well, who cares?
I mean, really, who cares?
I am one voice in the wilderness. I watched this film primarily because someday someone will ask me if I have seen this (already happened) and I will need to say yes, I’ve seen it.
But if the directors wanted to make any kind of impact or statement with this film, they utterly and completely, totally failed.
The only people who will come away from this thinking that they have learned anything are the people who have never had a clue about foster care – which is most people. So, it doesn’t really matter how I feel about it.
“Foster porn” is a term we use to describe the act of watching or listening to the stories of foster survivors – it’s like “poverty porn” – AKA “Honey Boo Boo” and “Mama June.” The only purpose it serves is entertainment.
You feel something.
But mostly, you feel better about yourself when you’re done. I think that pretty much sums up all porn.
“Foster” does nothing to educate the public about the horrific outcomes of foster care. It does not tell you that 50% of all females in foster care will be pregnant by age 19. Or that about the same number of foster youth drop out of high school. Or that 25% of foster youth will be homeless within a few years of aging out of the system. Or any number of horrible statistics that demonstrate how the system is not producing the outcomes it is charged with producing.
So much of the publicity around the film is about the Oscar wining directors. As if that means something. All it means is they can produce a film. It says nothing of its content. The film makers state in interviews that they were not taking a position on the issues. That’s false. If you don’t show the outcomes of the system and you only show the good people in the system and the “good” stories of kids in the system and the photogenic kids in the system, you have taken a position.
In the end, this film does nothing to advance the cause of children in need of stable families.