L.A. has the largest county foster-care system in the U.S., and an engaging new documentary explores it from the inside. “FOSTER” was written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris and produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, the pair that worked together on the Oscar-winning documentary “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport.” That movie told a different foster-care story, focusing on British efforts to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany before the start of World War II.
“FOSTER,” which debuts May 7 on HBO, brings the foster story home. It follows children and adults as they interact with L.A.’s foster-care system, including a young man struggling with emotional trauma while staying in a group home, a new mother whose child is taken away at the hospital after she tests positive for cocaine and a woman who prefers to foster “challenging” children.
The Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) gave the filmmakers special access, allowing them to capture the featured stories from multiple perspectives. While each person’s interactions with the department are unique, the movie offers subtle reminders that these families represent a mere drop in the bucket of cases DCFS handles every year. The movie opens at DCFS’ 24/7 Child Protection Hotline center, where in cubicle after cubicle, workers answer calls about children who may be victims of abuse or neglect. Later, the camera pans across stacks of paperwork on office desks and chairs, and it seems likely that each folder holds a different child’s story.
It’s heartbreaking to grasp how many children in our region have experienced abuse and abandonment, but “FOSTER” makes it clear that DCFS is doing the best it can to protect these kids from further abuse and neglect. Each story is full of sadness and stress, yet the overall message is one of hope. In the film, a 13-year-old girl talks candidly about being abandoned as a child and says that before being placed in her foster home, “I didn’t know that I could actually be loved again.”
The documentary may leave you asking yourself a nagging question: “What can I do to help these kids?” The movie’s title offers a simple, one-word answer: Foster.
For more information visit hbo.com/foster.