The County Voice

FOSTER Documentary Offers Complete Perspective

Image from HBO documentary FOSTER featuring adult woman holding young girl.

Too often, when a story about child welfare receives significant press coverage, it’s usually around the tragic murder of a child due to abuse and neglect. The audience is left with an incomplete view of County child protective services, and an unfair notion of our work. This can have a ripple effect on our system beyond perpetuating negative stereotypes in the general public. Students training to be social workers may choose a job elsewhere. Judges new to the bench may fold their newspapers in dismay and view social workers through a slightly different lens. Caring adults may shun any ideas about becoming a foster parent. There is no doubt that all together, these negative perceptions can affect outcomes for vulnerable children.

It’s within this context that I am so grateful to filmmakers Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris, along with Participant Media and HBO, for offering a complete perspective of our child welfare system in the documentary FOSTER. It is hopeful and optimistic, yet realistic about the challenges child welfare workers face, the resilience of our children and families, and the complexities of protecting against parental and caregiver abuse. As a child welfare leader, and a former social worker, I can’t think of a better way to share what we do with the world than through this remarkable film.

Years ago, Ms. Oppenheimer approached Los Angeles County about a film project to shine a light on the child welfare system. As a public entity, and the largest child welfare agency in the U.S., we try to accommodate every media request, and FOSTER was no different. We opened every door we could without knowing exactly how the film would turn out because we believe in our work and the life changing services we provide to the most vulnerable children and families among us.

Indeed, as Deadline news wrote, “Oppenheimer and Harris upend myths about foster care.” FOSTER weaves together the first-hand stories of those navigating the system with insights from social workers, advocates, judges and others. The movie features young parents struggling with addiction, foster and probation youth, a long-time foster mother who has taken in more than 100 children in her home, and a foster child-turned-social worker.

When staff from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services first saw a rough cut of the film, tears streamed down their eyes.

While filmed in Los Angeles, my guess is that all counties, and all states for that matter, will in some way, recognize themselves and their clients in the movie. Some of you may have already seen a trailer or a screening of FOSTER. Released on HBO on May 7 and available on-demand today, I encourage all of you to watch and to spread the word about this impactful film. More information can be found online here or via text “FOSTER” at 40649.

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