The world of child welfare and social work has never been portrayed all that well or all that frequently on television. I have posted before about East Side/West Side, the gritty 1963/64 George C. Scott, one season wonder. Canada has also touched lightly on the world of teens and social work in a mostly lighthearted sort of way with the 1981-87 series about a youth center, Hangin’ In.
There may have been others but none immediately spring to mind.
Recently, I have been watching The Fosters on Netflix. For those unfamiliar with this series, it is set in San Diego and has been running for four years. Here is a cribbed summary of the show, taken from an IMDB review.
“As the title implies, The Fosters is a show about a foster family but with a nice modern day twist – there are two moms instead of a mom and dad, the eldest son is the biological son of one of the moms from a previous marriage, and then there are the twins, a boy & girl, recently adopted by the family. This is a show concerned about all the people who fall outside of the traditional family existence, about the children who need another family to take them in. And they make it interesting! Really can’t emphasize this enough, there was obviously a great effort employed to combine the serious and complex issues with the need to entertain to tell the story, and they did brilliantly, i wasn’t bored for a second.”
There are a ton of episodes (77) and, as I write this, I have binge-watched twenty.
Several themes in The Fosters resonate with the Canadian Child Welfare experience, at least my understanding of the British Columbia experience.
Cultural and gender diversity, abandonment, selfishness, drug usage, violence, love, and sexual awakening are but a few.
While there is a sanitized sheen in The Fosters about the kids, the foster home, and the Charter School they all attend (and where one of the Moms is the Vice Principal,) not to mention one ethical issue that pops up quite early elsewhere, probably for dramatic effect (one of the foster moms is a cop, her ex is a cop and they are partnered up in the first episode and I found this plot thread a tad weak, and unrealistic,) there are some equally engaging and believable issues covered (amidst the occasionally soap operatic writing that uses way too many secrets and things not said or shared to advance the various plotlines.) For example, sexual abuse in the foster system is addressed as is Independent Living (a service to youth in care that can see them living on their own as early as age sixteen.)
Another theme given a large stage is foster care drift. I don’t recall it being named as such but it appears at almost every plot turn. Drift is a significant issue and worthy of more time tan I am allotting here.
The search for stability, the trade-offs, the barriers, these enter the story lines of The Fosters. Are all the episodes gritty and realistic? No. Are they less than they could be? Yes. Do they touch on a host of issues that push forward understanding of the world of care? I believe the story lines do.
On a final note, in the twenty episodes I have watched, social workers don’t seem to have much visibility. There are zero to none home visits. BC Social Workers are expected to visit foster homes regularly.
Ironically, in the first episode, the regular social worker, BILL, is busy with other cases. We don’t even see him.
Now, that I found eminently believable.