A hard-hitting documentary

by Martin Hafer

Mari Frankel and Deborah Ortiz are both very, very impressive women.  Both saw serious social problems and made exceptional documentaries in order to effect change…and neither one had apparently made a film in their lives before this!  Last year, I wrote about Code9: Office in Need of Assistance (by Ortiz) and this year I just discovered an equally hard-hitting film by Frankel, Foster Shock.  While neither of these are feel-good films, they are both very important because the topics they talk about are of the utmost importance to society….yet are rarely addressed.  Ortiz created a film about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in first responders and Frankel made a poignant documentary about the indifference towards the fate of kids in the foster care system.  My advice is to see them both…but on to my review of Foster Shock.

As I mentioned, Foster Shock is not a pleasant documentary to watch.  But, like the very best documentaries, it’s about an important topic and is trying to be a voice for important and meaningful change.  And, it’s a film I recommend everyone see…whether you live in Florida (where the film is set) or not.

This film delivers some very shocking statistics and stories about the foster care system in Florida and often the stories are described by the children themselves.  After the system was recently privatized, it is clearly broken and children are often abused as much, or more, after they are removed from their parents’ custody.  So, instead of protecting the kids, it is essentially warehousing them in a way that make it extremely easy for many of these kids to move from the foster care system straight to a similar sort of regimented program as adults…prison!  Additionally, many of the kids soon fall prey to the child sex trade or are funneled into the mental health system.  So, instead of nurturing the damaged children, they are often just further damaged and seen often as problem kids when they are simply victims.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, I worked in the mental health system with abused and exploited children and most of what I saw in the film was very consistent with what I saw in Foster Shock.  The film is not overstating the seriousness of the problem and physical, sexual and emotional abuse of the foster care children is sadly common.  Fortunately, however, the movie does not just depress the viewer but the final portion of the movie offers many suggestions for how to improve the system.  It also highlights an interesting organization (www.floridayouthshine.org) made up of teens and adults who grew up in the Foster care system in Florida.  Florida Youth Shine is not only advocating for change but is doing many things in the community to work with kids currently in the system.  In other words, kids and young adults helping kids who are just like them.  The many positive messages at the end of the film really make this a special documentary, as it offers hope and many excellent ideas for positive change.  It also is extremely well made and incredibly compelling.  And, it makes you wonder how an inexperienced filmmaker like Frankel was able to make a film this good…it’s simply incredible.

I know what some of you might be thinking now….that Florida is the exception to the rule and where you live things are much better.  I wouldn’t be so sure.  Privatization of the foster care system has spread to other states.  Plus, even if these services are run by the state, often the same sorts of issues are just as common.  Because of this, it’s really imperative that we all watch the film.

Grade: A+