In the new documentary From Place to Place, three former foster kids open the doors to their troubled pasts and share the weary—yet hopeful—road that lies ahead.
At 18 years old, Mandy, Raif and Micah "aged out" of Montana's foster care system. When kids age out, they lose their place to live, are cut off from government funding and are ill-equipped to enter the real world.
Mandy in Washington D.C. (Photo c/o Paige Williams)
Matt Anderson, the producer of From Place to Place, was the social worker assigned to help Micah and Raif transition to an independent living situation.
"I realized really quickly that my job and my program was setting them up for failure," Matt says. "To try to get an 18-year-old ready to become an independent adult is foolish. It's not the way it works in the real world."
Soon after Matt started working with Micah and Raif, he joined up with director Paige Williams to create a film about aging out of care. The two hope to raise awareness about the problems within the system and offer ways people can take action.
At first, Mandy says, she was not sold on allowing a film crew to document her life. But after she thought about it, she knew it was something she needed to do. "Nobody ever wanted to listen to me before," she says. "None of these kids get listened to. If somebody doesn’t do it, what’s going to happen to the kids that are still in care?”
When Mandy, Raif and Micah let film crews in, what surfaced was both raw and emotional.
Micah went into foster care at nine years old. "I didn't get enough of a chance to be a kid when I was a kid," he said in the film. He is now serving a three-year sentence in jail for purse-snatching. Raif calls himself a "street kid" and spends most nights in abandoned buildings. His dad was in prison before he was born and his mom committed suicide when he was 15.
Raif moves from place to place and is has trouble holding down a job. (Photo c/o Paige Williams)
Mandy is doing better than the others—she earned her GED and is able to support herself with three jobs. At 11, she entered the foster care system and spent time in thirteen different placements. Most of the time she was in either group homes or treatment centers and was never placed with her brother.
At one point, Mandy tells TakePart, it had been a year since she saw or heard from her brother. She was at a treatment center and no one told her that her brother was there as well.
"I remember one day we were walking down the hallway. You’re supposed to keep an arm’s length between the person ahead of you, with your head down and you’re not supposed to talk. We passed the other unit, and it happened that my brother was in the other unit and I didn’t know. He recognized me and I recognized him and we both got in big trouble for getting out of line and going up to each other. That was the only time we were placed together.”
While filming, Matt and Paige got the attention of lawmakers and Mandy and Raif were invited to share their stories with the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth in Washington D.C.
Mandy and Raif at the causus event in Washington D.C. (Photo c/o Paige Williams)
Neither of them thought they would ever have the opportunity to make such a big impact on the foster care system. Mandy says she wanted to focus on a few issues that were deeply personal to her.
Medication, she says, is being highly overused in a lot of placements. "I think it’s used less as something to fix what’s wrong with the children [....] They’re used to basically sedate the kids."
Mandy says at one point she was on seven different behavioral medications.
She also hopes to prevent siblings from being split apart when they enter the system. "It seems like once you’re removed from a home, the siblings are almost always separated. It’s incredibly damaging; you’re losing almost your entire family anyway, so if you have siblings, why would you want to take the siblings away?"
The most important message she brought to Washington was that kids shouldn’t have to go through this in the first place. "Kids that are removed for abuse and neglect shouldn’t be going through 13 or 20 placements."
She stressed that there should be more of an effort made to find kids permanent homes from the get-go. "I don’t think all of us kids would have so many problems as adults or develop so many behavioral issues as children if we had a stable environment where we could learn and grow."
From Place to Place's producer, Matt Anderson, says he hopes the film and their work in D.C. helps to influence foster care legislation and debunk stereotypes of foster kids being "bad kids, troublemakers or criminals."
"I think the truth is they're victims of trauma at the hands of their family, and they're victims of a system that doesn't care for them properly, Matt says. They're just like other kids; they're raw potential and they can do great things. I think that's something we want people to know and to believe."
Here is the trailer for From Place to Place. To purchase the film and learn more about how to help foster care youth, click here.