What the New HBO Documentary ‘Foster’ Glosses Over About the Child Welfare System
I only become aware of ‘Foster’, the original HBO documentary that aired last night examining Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services which just so happens to be the largest child welfare agency in the country, a couple of days ago via Twitter and decided that I would take a look. As a former foster child, True/birth mother, parental rights, child welfare reform, and social justice advocate, this film was of particular interest to me. The film features the stories and experiences of a handful of individuals that are in some way connected to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services also known as DCFS.
In 'Foster’, we hear and see a selfless spectacular foster mother, Mrs. Beaver, several foster children many of whom are in Mrs. Beaver’s care, a couple who’s had a DCFS case opened at the birth of their child due to the mother’s prenatal drug use, a few attorneys, caseworkers, and judges, and a former foster child who is now a mother and DCFS worker herself. And while, and predictably so, I found myself wiping the tears from my eyes by the end, I have to say that ‘Foster’ left a bad taste in my mouth. Not because of what was said — impossibly high caseloads, not enough and/or too few caseworkers, not enough funding — but because of was NOT said, or better yet, barely said.
In the film — mirroring the reality within the child welfare system nationwide — we see all white decision makers, specifically judges, and mostly black/brown children who are the wards of the state; even the couple that is featured is interracial — with the mother being white and the father Black. Yet, in a film that is two hours long, and having interviewed several L.A. county DCFS officials who are supposed to be letting it all hang out for lack of a better word, race and the overrepresentation of Afro-Americans within the L.A. child welfare system — and how race and racism impacts the child welfare system both in L.A. and in every state in the country — was mentioned exactly once and that was for a split second — it happens more than halfway into the film when an Afro-American caseworker points out almost passingly that Afro-Americans make up a mere 10 percent of the population in L.A., however, they make up a whopping 25 percent of the children in foster care. This is not acceptable to me because I know how important race is within the child welfare system.
That said, as an Afro-American woman who has had extensive horrifically negative experiences with the child welfare system due to institutionalized racism and discrimination, I cannot say that I was surprised by the director’s insistence on painting a one-dimensional picture of a multi-dimensional system, one where the zip code and the color of the parents and their children is not only relevant but in most cases directly impacts the outcomes for the families in many ways. After all, there is still a great reluctance on the behalf of child welfare professionals, and those who choose to publicly cover the system, to admit that white supremacy and white privilege play a major role in child welfare, it’s policies and how it operates. And while, I appreciate the film’s honesty — especially and specifically in revealing a small percentage of the trauma that is compacted when children are removed from their parents and families and then placed in the homes of complete strangers, many homes in most cases, and with individuals who may or may not treat them well — it is only showing the parts that are easiest to digest.
Simply put, I got the feeling the film went out of its way to be a “feel good tear jerker”, that is going out of it’s way to portray a benevolent child welfare system that is operating colorblind and doing the very best it can for the children who come in contact with it. Now, the film neglected to display or to even address many of the systemic negative outcomes that has become so commonly associated with DCFS. For example, all of the court cases followed and featured in the film ended well and with a positive outcome — i.e, court supervision terminated and cases closed — for those involved. Now, anyone who has had any significant experience with the child welfare system will know that this is simply not the reality as many cases end with the child never coming home and services never being offered — and this is much more likely to be the outcome if the parent and child are Afro-American — regardless of what the parents do or don’t do.
In conclusion, I would certainly recommend ‘Foster’ especially for those who would like to learn more about the child welfare system and what foster children and parents experience. That said, if you are looking for a deep analytic look at the child welfare system, and foster care in particular, you might want to look elsewhere. I would like give a heads up to all the child welfare reform advocates and True/birth parents out there when I say, sit back and enjoy and admire Mrs. Beaver and the incredible children, teens, and young adults featured, but don’t take the film too seriously and don’t think that any lasting change is going to come out of it because I can guarantee that you will be strongly disappointed if you do.
#NAFPAorg #BlackMothersForChildWelfareRefrom #WhitePrivilege #ChildWelfare #SocialJustice #AfricanAmericanChildWelfareAct #CasaSoWhite #CPS #FosterCare #ChildAbuse #FosterHBO #FosterDoc
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Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, MSW, CADAS, is a longtime parental rights and social justice advocate, child welfare reform activist, writer/blogger, and journalist whose work has been featured in BlackMattersUs and Rise Magazine. She is the founder, president, and executive director of the National African American Families First and Preservation Association (NAFPA) a groundbreaking 501c4 nonprofit origination, the first of its kind, devoted exclusively to the protection and preservation of the African American (Black) Family though policy and legislative advocacy.
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