This week, the television network ABC Family aired a new show called “The Fosters” about a same-sex couple and their family of biological, adopted, and foster children.
Nebraska Appleseed’s child welfare team tuned in to watch the episode and were curious about how the show would portray some of the issues that children in foster care face. Many television shows and movies have tangentially touched upon some of the issues related to foster care or the juvenile court system over the last couple of decades, but few have focused on the issues directly surrounding foster care as central to the plot.
Several shows focused heavily on foster care have garnered critical acclaim and success, including Punky Brewster (Robbie’s favorite!) Judging Amy (Sarah’s fave!) and the OC. Other shows and movies (which shall remain nameless) have unfortunately chosen to vilify either caseworkers, foster families, biological families, the juvenile court system, children in foster care, or all of the above in an attempt to portray what foster care is really like. As many of you probably know, this is a pretty simplistic take, and in many cases an inaccurate portrayal of the child welfare system.
Fortunately, The Fosters, at least in the first episode, was able to avoid many of the cliché tropes that have plagued this genre in the past. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the show’s season premiere did in fact raise many realistic issues that youth in foster care face. The premiere focused primarily on the relationships between Stef and Lena (the parents), Callie (a dually adjudicated youth recently placed with the family), Mariana and Jesus (twin siblings adopted from the foster care system), and Brandon (Stef’s biological son).
The opening scene shows Callie on her last day at a juvenile residential facility, from which she is released and immediately placed with the Fosters. (This is the actual last name of the family she is placed with, which even we have to admit is pretty cheesy).
The episode was able to pretty successfully display some of the initial issues that many youth in foster care face when they arrive at a new placement, including learning the rules of a new household, locating necessities such as a toothbrush, starting school in a brand new place in the middle of the semester, and the general awkwardness of a new environment. The Fosters was also able to believably portray the twins’ conflicted emotions towards and relationship with their biological mother.
Finally, (SPOILER ALERT!) at the end of the episode, Brandon forgoes his music competition to help Callie rescue her younger brother Jude from an abusive foster father. Jude is also immediately placed with the Fosters (albeit through a very expedited, made-for-TV emergency placement). In any case, the show was able to convincingly show the deep connection between the two siblings and Callie’s intense desire to protect her younger brother as they journey through the perils of the child welfare system together.
We hope the show will continue to portray some of the real issues that youth in foster care and youth formerly in foster care deal with every day. In the coming days, we will officially begin the discussion by breaking down one of the practical issues raised in the first episode in Part II of this blog. We also hope to continue blogging in the future about the various legal and practical child welfare issues raised within the show, so stay tuned for more. You know we will be!