‘This Is Us’ Gets Adoption and Foster Care Right

The following article, by Naomi Schaefer, appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 12/30/2017.

‘This Is Us’ Gets Adoption and Foster Care Right
‘I am always happy to discuss ‘” This Is Us,’” says Jason Weber of the nonprofit Christian Alliance for Orphans. “Just don’t ask me if it makes me cry.” Mr. Weber who directs the alliance’s efforts to recruit and train foster families, tells me the hit NBC show offers an extremely accurate portrayal of the “real tensions that exist” for anyone involved in adoption or foster care.”

Now halfway through its second season, “This Is Us” follows three story lines that touch on fostering and adoption. In the first, a couple looses a child at birth and adopts an abandoned baby, Randall. In the second, the adult Randall meets and develops a relationship with his dying biological father. And in the third, Randall and his wife, Beth, bring a foster child to live in their home.

The show is heartwarming. Randall was abandoned by a drug-addled father after his mother died of an overdose. That he is adopted into a loving home is itself a kind of miracle. His reunion with his “bio” father brought many in the weekly viewing audience of 13 million to tears. “I think the relationship between Randall and his adopted parents and his longing for a relationship with his biological parents is spot on,” one woman wrote in a private Facebook group for adoptive mothers. “The emotional inner battle over loyalty to both is well represented.”

“This Is Us” doesn’t paper over the challenges these families face. Some viewers were shocked by a judge’s refusal to sign off on Randall’s adoption because he is black, and his new parents are white. But this was not uncommon in the early 1980’s, when the scene takes place. Congress didn’t outlaw racial considerations in adoptions until 1996. Randall and Beth’s foster child, Deja, has suffered abuse and she flinches when Randall comes too close. She frequently acts out. Every time Randall and Beth feel as if they are gaining the teenager’s trust, things go south again.

Mr. Weber is planning to show clips from the show to potential foster families. “The tense conversation that Randall and Beth have with the social worker and the internal struggle Randall has about Deja’s mom are so real and portrayed so well,” he says.
An Indiana mother on the Facebook group wrote: when (Randall and Beth) foster (Deja), I saw so many similarities with our teen in the beginning, especially the need to care for/give money to her mom. Or when the foster dad feels like he is the only one advocating for his foster daughter’s well-being and yells at the social worker! (I’ve literally had that exact conversation).”

Terri Moore, who has with her husband Johnston fostered 10 children and adopted seven, says she “thought they handled the girl’s tension well . . . the fact that she was torn because she loves her mother, but was also growing attached to the foster family.” The Moores also work in this area-she as a court-appointed special advocate in Virginia and he as the founder of a foster care advocacy group called Home Forever.

On her blog, Foster the Family, New Jersey foster mother Jamie Care writes: “Seeing foster care and adoption on the screen like this is a gift to foster and adoptive families.” But also: “It’s a gift to the people who’ve never considered adoption for their families. It’s a gift to the people who know that foster care exists but have never even considered it could have anything to do with them.”

Other Hollywood portrayals of foster care and adoption have not been received nearly as well as “This Is Us.” The 2009 film “Orphan,” about a childless couple that adopts, earned the ire of foster and adoptive parents. A letter signed by leaders of 11 adoption and child welfare groups said that the film “may impede recruitment efforts by feeding into the unconscious fears of potential foster and adoptive families that orphaned children are psychotic and unable to heal from the wounds, neglect, and abandonment.”

It is not that foster and adoptive parents want TV shows and movies to present a rosy picture of their experiences. Many foster parents are simply not prepared for the reality. “When kids come home it’s so much more difficult, more than anyone can believe,” says Kelly Rosati, who oversees adoption and orphan care for Focus on the Family and is herself an adoptive mother. “Marriages start to fray. People wonder: ‘Why have we done this? We used to be happy.’ Their days consumed with chaos and trauma.”

For Ms. Rosati and the families who welcome these children into their homes, the answer is not to scare people or to deceive them, but simply to offer a realistic picture of the hardships and the joy that fostering a child can bring. Now they have one.
Ms. Riley is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.