foster care nonsense in pop culture

I obviously don't own this image. It's from the ABC show "Once Upon a Time."

I obviously don't own this image. It's from the ABC show "Once Upon a Time."

I don't watch much live television. I'm a Netflix and Amazon Prime binge watcher.  And while I used to watch a lot of new movies, parenting doesn't leave me as much time for the theater anymore. We RedBox whatever looks interesting! This is my excuse for why some of my references below may seem dated to people who watch current TV and have twelve movie ticket stubs in their coat pocket.

Foster care comes up occasionally in pop culture. What I've noticed is that I'm usually the bad guy -- "I" meaning the foster parent. If the foster parents aren't the bad guys, the social workers are.  My concern with this is that when Hollywood only portrays foster parents and social workers as family-destroying, child-stealing, money-hungry abusers, they're making it harder to inspire and recruit loving, self-sacrificing people to make the system better for the kids.

Here are some examples...

Once Upon a Time

Up front, I love this show. However, since foster care, adoption, and parenting are HUGE themes in this show, there are way too many things entirely wrong from my perspective. I will summarize that an adoptive mom is literally the Evil Queen and that a perfectly healthy white baby girl is apparently thrown around from home to home with no one willing to adopt her, leaving her an emotionally scarred adult. Oh, but before that, after years of this instability, she moves in with a family in her teens and after two weeks is perfectly adjusted, calling the adults "mom" and "dad." I guess that's all just part of the fantasy of the show?


In an episode titled "Dog Soldier," social workers are stealing children from a Native American reservation to somehow collect federal money that comes to the group home caring for them. I read a quote about this episode that said something like, "This depiction of foster care is about as accurate as the way Dirty Harry portrays law enforcement." The history of Native American kids being taken from their homes and communities is obviously horrendous, but from what I've read, there may now be far more cases of government over-correction that leaves kids endangered than cases of government over-reaching. One interesting element of this episode is, despite a corrupt group home housing most of the kids, there is one very good foster family who is earnestly trying to help a young boy.

Despicable Me

The woman in charge of the group home is the problem here. A weird, single man shows up and asks to adopt three young girls and they are immediately sent there to spend the night? Um... No. No. No.

Blue Bloods

There have been a couple of weak portrayals of foster care in this otherwise outstanding series. The one that bothered me the most was a child whose mother and father were both killed. The next morning, someone in the precinct had "started adoption paperwork" because "no family had stepped forward." Whoa. Yeah, your timeline is off by about 2 years there. Simmer down, Sergeant.

Anne of Green Gables

Have to include this classic in the list! Obviously, since it's set in a historical context, I don't really know how much was true then that would be different now. But I will say that if you are a foster parent, it might be a good idea to discuss the themes of this story before just turning it on for your kids. 

Free Willy

Same as above. I remember loving this movie as a kid, but the beginning made my six-year-old cry, and we had to turn it off. I hadn't remembered that the beginning shows the young boy lying, stealing, and running away from foster care. Ultimately, the foster parents end up as good guys, but it may be worth giving your kids a heads up.

The Book Thief

I'm currently reading this, so I don't think I can comment prematurely. But I'm not a fan of the foster mom being an evil, screaming monster.  Foster dad thus far is admirable.


As I've said before, I know there are terrible people doing evil things in this system that is set up to protect children.  I won't pretend that foster care or adoption are perfect solutions with a red bow on top. Far from it -- I know the system is dramatically broken.  My point is that it will not help us bring GOOD people into the role of foster parent when we are only portrayed in pop culture as the bad guys.