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The U.S. child welfare system is overwhelmed. Over 400,000 kids are in foster care, and child protection agencies field around 4 million calls of abuse or neglect each year. Foster, a new documentary premiering on HBO May 7, offers a view of the situation from Los Angeles County, home to the largest child welfare agency in the country.
The film follows five stories: First there’s Earcylene Beavers, a foster parent for over 27 years, who gathers her children for a prayer each morning before sending them to school. Her story shows how a God-loving home can positively affect a child’s life—yet Beavers doesn’t idealize the foster system. “Once a kid is taken from their parent, if they didn’t have an issue before, they’ve got one now,” she says.
Dasani, 16, witnessed the murder of his mother when he was young. He’s a talented rapper but bounces from group home to group home, struggling to stick to the terms of his probation. Mary, 18, feels the pressure to be a success story as she ages out of the system. She doesn’t want to fall into homelessness or poverty, as many do.
Then there’s Jessica Chandler, a social worker who grew up in foster care—and hated it. “I don’t remember any light,” she says. “I was in eternal darkness.” Now she’s trying to improve the system.
Finally, there’s Raeanne, an unmarried mother who lost custody of her newborn after testing positive for cocaine. To be reunited with her child, she must get clean.
Foster contains some profanity, but only when emotions are raw. The stories highlight the injustice foster kids face: In a biological family, a teenager who has an angry outburst and throws an object would be grounded. But a foster teen might be charged with a crime.
Beavers concludes, “The kids need a lot of love, and the type of love has to be longsuffering.”