ReMoved: Understanding the Lived Foster Care Experience

“My past defines me.  This is who I am.  I am unseen, unheard, unwanted.  That is what I am.  If I am even anything.”  ReMoved

ReMoved is a poignant short film that portrays the lived foster care experience. The film was written and produced by Nathanael and Christina Matanick to raise awareness of the pain and hopelessness felt by children in the child welfare system.  It follows the journey of a nine-year old girl, Zoe, as she is removed from her biological mother because of domestic violence and physical abuse at the hands of her mother’s paramour.  ReMoved primarily uses non-diegetic sound using a powerful, yet poetic, voiceover of Zoe accompanied by heavyhearted music throughout.  In stark contrast to the narration and music, the diegetic sounds of the film are only used to portray extreme feelings of the characters; the sounds of fear while Zoe is punished in a foster home, or the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore while she sits on the beach.

The film opens with Zoe witnessing her mother being assaulted by her paramour and then moves to an assumption that she herself is physically abused.  Zoe attends school with injuries to her face, which appear to lead to her removal from her mother’s care by police and child protection.  A dramatic scene plays out outside the home. In the shots below, you see Zoe being pursued by the child protection worker, while her mother chooses to run after her arrested paramour instead of attending to her daughter who is running in fear. Unfortunately in domestic violence situations, many women feel that they must choose the abuser instead of their children due to the dynamic of power and control exercised in the abuse.

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Bright lighting to focus on the the child protection worker and Zoe
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Brighter lighting on the background and the close up of characters faces

The film continues to show Zoe’s lived foster care experience as she is moved from foster home to foster home.  In each scene of time, a change of home is highlighted in a similar manner.  Zoe and her child protection worker are viewed, along with her belongings in a trash bag–the common luggage of foster care. They are shown in various frames of the routine they have created during the moves.  Through the varying shots, the film shows Zoe as she appears to be getting accustomed to the routine of removal and replacement in another foster home.  However, each move a child experiences in foster care placement leads to increased anxiety, feelings of rejection, and lack of feeling safe and stable.

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Long shot showing the routine of a move for Zoe
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Medium shot of Zoe and worker walking toward a new foster home
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Profile shot of Zoe awaiting a new foster parent

The film continues to show the difficult times that Zoe encounters while placed in a foster home.  Her behavior becomes challenging and the foster parents intervene by physically dragging her from a porch outside into the shower and dousing her with cold water,   showing her powerless and the immense power of her current caregiver.

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Higher camera angle looking down on Zoe to demonstrate control over her

 

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High camera angle showing the difference of power between Zoe and her foster parent

ReMoved is a compelling short film portraying the increasing struggle of a child involved with child welfare.  The scenes show how her past, present, and view of the future is affected first by  domestic violence and physical abuse and then perpetuated by a broken system.   Newtown et al. (2000), in their study of 415 children placed in foster care, found that children who demonstrate severe challenging behaviors are more at risk for placement disruptions.  To complicate this fact, foster parents are at times unable to establish a relationship with a youth due to challenging behaviors, thus creating an increased vulnerability to the negative effects of placement change.

The demonstration of challenging externalizing behavior and an inability to regulate their effect is a common symptom for children in the foster care system.  This, combined with a foster parent’s lack of knowledge on how to handle these behaviors, is a recipe for increased adverse experiences.

Disruptions in placement are common when the foster parent does not understand how to help a traumatized child.  Chamberlain et al. (2006) found the average foster parent’s threshold of dealing with externalizing challenging behavior is at 6 incidents per day; an increase over 6 incidents would be an indicator of magnified risk of placement disruption.  The number of times a foster parent intervenes to behavioral incidents challenges their commitment to a child in care. The risk of foster placement disruption, beginning with the effects of trauma in their biological home, is highly influenced by the tolerance threshold of a foster parent.  To complicate this risk is also the effects of the trauma of multiple movements.

So what is the solution to this complex dilemma?  To start, these children require foster parents who are trained to intervene with children in a non-punitive, consistent, and predictable manner.  Foster parents should demonstrate empathy for a foster child’s need to be heard and seen; therefore, building a relationship which is the groundwork toward the feeling of safety.  These foster parents are more successful in their care taking. Along with training and continued support of formal team members, such as an experienced therapist, foster parents can understand and treat the symptoms from adverse experiences of a child.  It is through this structured programming for children that foster home disruptions can be minimized.

At the end of ReMoved, Zoe is able to experience a positive foster care parent relationship which serves as a foundation toward her healing.  Although it is only the beginning of Zoe’s foster care journey, this foster care parent plays an integral role in her ability to see that she deserves to be loved, as we all do.

“And slowly, slowly seasons changed around me, and it seemed this time that maybe the world would not be pulled out from under me.  Feet safe, roots starting to grow. Little buds of hope for me.  Slowly attempting to trust this new life.” ReMoved

 

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