“We’re losing ourselves to what the world says we are.”
These words, spoken softly by a character named Addie in the movie Know How, describe one of the common realities of life in foster care that the film sets out to change.
Created at The Possibility Project, a New York based youth-serving nonprofit whose founder Paul Griffin served as executive producer, Know How was written and performed by foster youth who developed the script from raw scenes in their own lives.
The film has won numerous awards over the past year during a limited run of screenings at film festivals and private showings for youth organizations, policy makers and child welfare professionals. During May, which is National Foster Care Month, the film will be distributed in select theaters by First Run Features, showing in New York and Los Angeles May 15 through 21 and will also premier nationally on Participant Media’s Pivot television network on May 27. The film is also available for community screenings.
“We are pulling back the veil,” says director Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza, “and saying ‘here’s what foster care youth have to say about their experiences.’ These are their stories, told how they want to talk about them.”
After months of doing scene work at The Possibility Project in which they acted out personal experiences, the youth selected the stories that would make up the film. Over time, says Escoriaza, a thematic unity among the plot lines emerged.
The script follows the young characters behind the closed doors of courtrooms, classrooms and bedrooms, as well as out into the streets where, too often, they find themselves alone. Their lives intersect on subway cars and in the halls of New York’s Administration for Children’s Services as they navigate bureaucracies and struggle to make their way in their foster care placements and manage daily activities like going to school.
Addie describes in a voiceover how she “became a case” after her mother died, and was placed in kinship care with her aunt. Although she is within reach of graduating high school, Addie risks not finishing because she has missed so many days. Instead of offering support, her aunt threatens to kick her out if she gets another truancy report, telling her: “That’ll mess up my check.”
“For teens in foster care, it’s hard to decide what you put first,” says Niquana Clark, who portrays Addie in the film. “Addie’s story shows the chaotic life where school cannot come first.”
“At the heart of what we always wanted to do,” says Escoriaza, “is affect social change in some real, meaningful way.”
To that end, in addition to getting the movie in front of as wide an audience as possible, the filmmakers and Participant Media are partnering on a social action campaign with California Youth Connection (CYC), a statewide program in which current and former foster youth work with policymakers to improve the foster care system.
On the evening of May 5, Escoriaza and cast member Claribelle Pagan will join CYC in Sacramento for a screening and panel discussion, with opening remarks by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) and Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose.) The screening will kick off the dialogue between foster youth and lawmakers during CYC’s Shadow Day, when foster youth will spend a day with lawmakers.
The social action campaign seeks support for Assembly Bill 403, authored by Stone, which would implement recommendations from the California Department of Social Services’ 2015 Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) report. Among other changes to the state’s child welfare system, the report recommends greatly reducing the use of group homes for foster youth in favor of more “home-based family settings.”
The filmmakers plan other social action campaigns, says Escoriaza, and hope this first one will impact similar legislation around the country.
Asked what she would like general audiences to gain from the movie, Clark says she hopes they will learn not to make assumptions about foster youth. “As soon as you mention being in foster care, people automatically think they know something about you but they don’t.”
As for foster youth who see the film, Clark says she wants them to know they’re not alone. She echoes her character Addie, who says in the film, “We’re connected by our struggles. They inspire the decisions that change our lives. The future can be different.”
Know How makes this clear.