I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while not but, seeing as May is National Foster Care Awareness month, it couldn’t have came at a better time.
If you haven’t heard of The Fosters, it’s a (semi) new TV show following the lives of two female partners & their slew of multiethnic children. The two, quite literally, grew their family through foster care. Their oldest son, Brandon, is the biological son of Steph, one of the moms, from a previous marriage, Jesus & Marianna are hispanic twins the couple fostered to adopt when they were 5 years old, &, newly added to the mix, Callie & Jude.
While the show is full of mystery, surprises, and, since five of the stars are teenagers, drama of, course, that is not why I chose to start watching. Recently, my husband & I completed classes to be foster parents. We went through 10 weeks of classes that gave us the, “quick and dirty,” on foster care. Once the classes ended, even as a social worker, I was left searching for more information on how to help the plethora of children in state custody. One day, while enjoying a Netflix break when I was studying for my comp exam, I saw it. The Fosters. “Is this about foster care?” Reading the summary I found that yes, yes it was. &, after the first episode, I was hooked.
When I was only halfway through season 1, I kept noticing so many things from what we are taught in class (& through my own research) occurring in the show.
What I noticed:
-Sometimes siblings are separated. If this made you gasp in shock, the previous statement alone doesn’t even grasp the totality of what that means for these children. These are kids who have lost, literally everything. All their other family members, their homes, their toys, their clothes, their pets, everything. What does that leave them with? Their siblings. For kids in care, their siblings are often their only form of continuity in terms of attachment and security. In the first episodes, we learn that Callie is trying to speak with her brother, who remained in an abusive foster home that sent Callie to juvie for trying to protect him.
Later, in season 2 (spoiler alert), we again see just how strong the attachment is when Callie learns she has a half sister & decides to meet her. Soon after, Jude stops speaking. The moms report to the other kids Jude’s therapist determined what was happening to be called selective mutism.
-At some point in the first season, we see Jude start to hoard food. When one of the moms confronts him about, asking why, he responded that, “Some foster homes don’t have a lot of food.” This storyline was not introduced only to introduce an element of drama in the show, unfortunately, it only illustrates the harsh realities of foster care. During our classes, we were told that many foster children, as young as toddlers, engage in hoarding food. They’re afraid they won’t get anymore as nothing in their lives has been constant so they hoard it just in case. As we saw on this episode, they discovered Jude was hoarding because ants had took over his stash, another reality of foster care.
-In episode 1, we meet Callie in juvie for reasons already described. As 75% of youth in the criminal justice system were, at some point, in foster care, this is another harsh reality (Thoma, 2010).
-Being moved around a lot. Until Callie & Jude are placed with Steph & Lena Foster, they’d been in several other foster homes. Some good, some not so good.
-Falling behind in school. When Jude first gets to Anchor Beach, the principal wants him to take the same exam the other students took to get in after seeing that his education isn’t up to par with the other pupils. In reality, kids in care often score 16-20% lower than other children (according to a study done by Washington State).
-Secretive contact with birth parents & family members. While we don’t get to see much of this in The Fosters, the situation with the twins mom in season 1 shed some light on it. While I attended a foster parent support meeting as a student during grad school, I saw a similar situation play out with one of the teens. During the meeting, someone stepped in to notify his foster mother he was talking with two women outside the building. When she returned to the meeting, she reported that he had contacted members of his family via Facebook & they’d arranged to meet him there-something that was forbidden in his case plan.
In addition, the majority of foster children emotionally and behaviorally act out after contact with their birth parents. We saw a glimpse of this with Marianna when she found that her birth mom only used her for money. What we didn’t see was the weight the experience could have had on an actual kid in care.
-The emotional baggage. The majority of kids in care come with a lot of baggage. Baggage from their birth families, baggage from previous placements that may not have been a good place. Early on, we saw just how much being in foster care has effected Callie. Later, in season 2, we also see how this has effected Jude in relation to the selective mutism. In relation to this, we see his sister tell him, “we’ve been though a lot, you were due for a breakdown.”
While The Fosters may not fully encompass what foster care is, it does bring awareness to foster care, as well as educate the general public about certain aspects that go with the territory. It is my hope that some of the younger viewers see this and better understand their peers who are in care. In addition, I hope the show encourages more people to step up and become foster parents, as there is great need for foster parents.