‘There are so many biases’: inside the American foster care system

A new documentary on the largest child protection agency in the US tells the stories of those who are often unheard

Sixteen-year-old Dasani sits in a room, his hands lightly twisting his hair. Breathing labored, he recounts the memories of the streets of Chicago to his lawyer, Patricia Soung, and case worker, Lammy. While he doesnt say what he is seeing, it is later revealed he witnessed the murder of his mother as a five- or six-year-old. Hands picking at his hair, it is evident the teen is still deeply affected by it, sweat beading on his forehead. Can we stop please? he finally asks. His lawyer and case worker are there to assess whether or not he might need more specialized counseling to aid him in his probation case. One of many youth entrusted to the foster care system and one of the subjects of new documentary Foster, he is the resident of a group home and is on probation after an allegation that he smoked weed.


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The film follows the facets of the Los Angeles county department of children and family services, the largest child protection agency in the nation. Through the eyes of social workers, foster care youth, caretakers and even parents who are trying to regain custody of their children, Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris, the Oscar-winning producer and director of Foster present a mosaic of the foster care system. The film immortalizes the grit of Los Angeles, distant from the glimmering lights the city is known for, and illustrates the stories of those affected by the foster care system.

Each story in the movie has a different purpose and a different point to make. We couldnt possibly represent all the stories in the system but this is a handful of stories that could occur anywhere, across the country, said Oppenheimer. Harris agreed. Its a very complex system and we wanted to see it from multiple perspectives, he says.

The team, who also made 2001 documentary Into the Arms of Strangers, found themselves looking for another reason to work with each other. When Oppenheimer had an interaction with a foster care youth and mentioned it to Harris, the two decided to team up again to help show the full kaleidoscope of the system which holds the lives of so many innocent children like Dasanis in the piled-up case files of the often overworked but constantly concerned social workers.

Jessica Chandler, the social worker shadowed in the film, describes her profession as hard as hell. A similar sentiment is echoed by emergency response social worker Jacqueline Chum. Its like being in the marines, Chum says, as she rides to confront film subjects Raeanne and Chris about why there are drugs in their childs system. With child protection agencies in America receiving 4 million reports of neglect and abuse each year, according to the film, its clear there are systemic problems and its minority communities who bear most of the brunt. The documentary is riddled with devastating statistics, such as one in eight US children will have a case of neglect by age 18, and oscillates from chaos and pain to tender moments, granting grace and softening harsh preconceived judgments.

In a bedroom of foster mother Earcyclene Beavers home sits 13-year-old Denyisha. A ward of the state since she was a child, Denyisha expressed thoughts of depression and isolation before settling into the Beavers home, where she has been for five years. Like many of the children and even some of the adults in Foster, her early life was plagued by neglect and abuse by those who should have loved her most. But with Beavers, she feels safe for the first time. Before this home, she says, I didnt know that I could actually be loved.

Theres pain on show in the film but the end note is one of resilience. Despite the trauma that they have experienced, they have a tremendous resilience and potential. I think you see this in all the kids, said Harris. He continued: They have that kind of energy and I think thats one of the things that attracted Deborah and me to these people, why we picked them. Because despite what they experienced, they had a positive outlook on life.

Dasani in Foster. Photograph: HBO


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This was Oppenheimer and Harriss primary objective: to shed biases of the children and the many support workers in the foster care system. Onscreen, this spirit is embodied by the children and support workers themselves, such as Dasanis lawyer, Patricia Soung, who tells him: When you arrive in court here and they dont know you and all they receive is something like the police report, they see one act. And its typically, in their eyes, a bad act. Part of what my job is, is to tell the fuller story.

Theres so many biases and judgments, Oppenheimer said. If people would see them as people, then maybe have compassion and engage [with them]. [People of the child welfare system] deserve more than just to survive. They deserve the opportunity, the possibility of a quality life and we hope that this movie can help people see them differently. Harris concurred: We hope that people see their potential.

While many of the characters remain upbeat despite their circumstances, the film production itself was difficult. A seasoned producer of shows like George Lopez and The Drew Carey Show, Oppenheimer found the bureaucracy behind the scenes just as frustrating as many of those whose case files are piled on the desks of the social workers. She told the Guardian: I think if I hadnt produced all those television shows, I would have not been able to produce this movie. This movie was one of the hardest things Ive ever done. I needed to bring all of those producing skills from television, all that resourcefulness, to making a movie. But like the subjects of the film, she persevered. What I learned on all those TV shows is not to take no for an answer.

The release of the documentary will be accompanied with a social impact campaign Oppenheimer characterizes as robust. It, like the film, is meant to get people involved. Those who would like to make a difference are encouraged to text Foster to 40649 to see how they can help foster youth in their own communities. We want people to engage, Oppenheimer said. For so long, the public has received their stories from big headlines of times of fatality, a tragedy, a child dying or being killed. So they give up, they despair. We want people to engage according to their capacity.

  • Foster premieres on HBO on 6 May with a UK date yet to be announced

  • This article was amended on 6 May 2019 to clarify Deborah Oppenheimers title.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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