Foster Care Revealed on “Our America with Lisa Ling” July 3

Credit: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
Credit: The Oprah Winfrey Network.

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

In 2012, my organization, Fostering Media Connections, organized a town hall at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Law exploring the contentious debate over media access to otherwise-closed juvenile dependency hearings. These are the hearings where judges and court commissioners decide the fate of children who have been substantiated victims of abuse and neglect.

Guests ranging from former foster youth to the presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court and the editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle argued the merits and dangers of letting journalists into these proceedings. I had hopes that this discussion would be the start of a synthesis between the two sides of the argument, but I don’t know that we moved the dial substantially.

Since then, a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

Credit: Billy Pena One of the shows young characters looks out over her Los Angeles neighborhood.
Credit: Billy Pena
One of the show’s young characters looks out over her Los Angeles neighborhood.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.

It is for you to then decide whether or not we lived up to the responsibility that came with our access—whether we helped more than we hurt.

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Daniel Heimpel
About Daniel Heimpel 194 Articles
Daniel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.

15 Comments

  1. Why not address the real underlying problem behind this whole system – the drugged up personnel who in turn drug the foster children bringing in mega bucks for Pharma. I could tell you horror stories confessed to me by them about their antidepressant-induced psychotic episodes that still give me nightmares. One described himself as being totally out of his mind on Prozac when he took children out of a good home based only on the delusions he was having at the time that the family were Satan worshipers and wanted it to be reversed years later. Another took children from the state’s Mother of the Year on trumped up charges – having a knitting machine was evidence of OCD and food storage in case of any emergency (job loss. natural disaster. etc.) was hoarding. She even told this mother she was on Effexor and had a gun in her purse. These are the decision makers over the lives of these families. The whole CPS system is a giant asylum and they forcibly “medicate” the children they take in and do all in their power to get the whole family left behind on drugs as well. Senator Grassley did wonders in exposing the mass drugging of the foster children. but the reason behind it was the mass drugging of the social workers themselves.

  2. On Our America with Lisa Ling there was a program tape in July 2014 titled Children of the System.
    At the beginning there was an 11 yr old girl and her 5 yr old brother who had been placed in a care system.The boy was taken away because a home was found for him.The girl was left .
    What happened to them? Did they remain separated? Is there anything I can do to help either of the children?

  3. I have 6 childrrn ages 24,20,18yr old twins 12 yr old and 10yr old.. I had a good life growing up but when my mom had gotten a divorce from my step dad my brother stayed and I had went with my mom.. it was a horrible feeling because I really had no clue as to what was happening.but the only life I knew was gone in a split second.all I could think about was my brother. Why didnt he come? It took me a few yrs to understand what happend to my FAMILY.. after seeing those two young kids bring SPLIT apart was so heart breaking, just so sad.. it just brings tears to my eyes to see that happen..and its sad to say I BLAME THE PARENTS IF THEY’RE STILL LIVING.. MORE THAN I BLAME THE SYSTEM.. young children should be placed together because in reality they’re all they got. All they have left is eachother. And it breaks my heart.. if anyone that reads this knows how to contact someone about these two children I will be more than happy to find out the process on how to foster and adopt these two children together. I myself have haf my ups n downs hard time raising 6 kids 6 different personalities just 6 of everything being different..life is only as hard as u make it.. and these children need to be together.. and if I can make that happen I most certainly will. So my contact info is kiyadupree@yahoo.com. my telephone is 203-435-8455..If anyone can help me help these children feel free to contact me! ! (God is telling me to do this)

    • Hello Kiya ,,, watching video has my heart hurting so bothered by it, did you hear anything if they were reunited or not ?

  4. HI everyone, as a former foster youth, and social worker, i am now starting a non-profit org to help at risk youth throughout la county.

    This program will merge several existing services into one hollistic service. I will be going into bootcamps, juvenile halls, group homes, and continuation high school.

    We all might be somewhat aware about the school to prison pipeline in low in come communities but no one is talking about the even worse off foster care to prison pipeline. After being raised by the state in over 13 placements throughout the state, and then working in the field i am fed up with people pointing the finger, and am taking action.

    They recently made a “watch dog” group to look over la county dcfs with a 5 person commitee, yet a community representative or organization representing the youth is not part of the group. Hello, no one will be as honest as those impacted by this system.

    Seeds of Peace, will not only work on providing direct services (mentoring, case managment, mental health, life skills) but we will also be nurturing relationships with other organizations to support foster care advocacy and policy. Please contact me if you would like to hear more or would like to support our organization. After almost 4 yrs of working for the system, i am pissed off at the state of our child welfare system, and am taking matters into my own hands in support with other community members and organizations, please contact us/

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I completely agree with the points you made about the need for hollistic service and changing the foster care to prison pipeline. I’d like to help out with your program in any way I can.

      Feel free to email me.

      In solidarity,

      Michelle

  5. Lisa Ling, as usual, presented a true depiction of a social problem. As a former child lost to a system that was already overburdened in the 1970s, who’s solution was only reunification, I am now trying to raise awareness for these children who grow into marginalized youth who are disconnected from the traditional resources and peer/mentor networks that all young people require to emerge into the ‘real’ adult world.

    There are of course, programs for transitional youth who age out of foster care. However, what happens to young people not in the system or who have simply had enough of being in it? At 18 years old most teens want to explore and experience the rights of passage of new adulthood. For marginalized youth, after years of being betrayed and abused by adults the urge to disconnect is even greater. But so is their requirement to have access to resources to help them safely process this natural youthful rebellious phase while also being safe and having touch points to connections to education and mentors.

    When I was a teenager, I had to step underground into a feral fringe world…thirty plus years later this should not have to be the continuing legacy for today’s youth that come from chaotic childhoods.

    I agree with the documentary that the foster care system must acknowledge that social workers are people entitled to compassionate care in the form of manageable caseloads.

    It must also acknowldge that with 2.9 million reports of child abuse per year there are MILLIONS and generations from baby boomers to xers ys and millenials that require and merit resources.

    Thank you again for showcasing this issue.

  6. The dcf system..esp fl..steals our babies..and sells them..they failed the abused..an lie to take a happy child from loving homes..anu do what the caseplan an ur rights are terminatd like ours..cause a fostermom wantd to adopt,most these kids werent abusd..

  7. I tried to adopted thru la county They make it extremely difficult Just to become a foster parent to adopt a child it was the most horrible experience in my life My social worker was most judgmental So I requested another The process didn’t get any easier, My homestudy was not approved So I requested a hearing. Supervisors were brought in my new social worker another person representing the LA County all set at a desk Across from me All dressed in black as cold as it could be you would’ve thought I was at someone’s funeral I had brought in my therapist my niece a very close friend of 35 years to speak on my behalf. Again denied letter sent to me I spend many hours going to the classes preparing my home Purchasing required items to have in my home to receive a Child I had absolutely no problem with the city of LA giving me a license for my home. The foster care system is broken. They are not looking out for the little ones in this world. :~<

  8. I’m going to be recording this one for sure. The LA Foster Care system is flawed but it needs more attention in order to get more funds & help so that it may help these children have better lives & into secure, loving homes, if that’s with their biological families or those that want to adopt them. So, sharing this to bring more awareness. Love & light to all!

    • My husband and I have been foster parents since 2009. We’ve seen a lot of what the show talked about tonight. Around the country children are being placed back with parents who are not ready to be full-time parents. In some cases, these parents are not given the proper tools and help to address the issues of why their children were taken. Some cases are more extreme than others, but the biological parents need to face their issues head on and find ways to prevent this from happening in the future. We must help them break the cycle so they can become better parents and hopefully prevent removal of their children again. You have the system step up to push reunification so get children off of the overloaded case load, but the real issue being overlooked. I’m in schoolboy to become a Social Worker and I want to help restore hope to the many women that has had their children taken away.I want to help give them the tools needed to be a better parent while their children give the love they need while in foster care. We have to do what’s in the best Interest of the child, and in the meantime making sure we do everything possible to equip their parents with all they need to become a healthier family. Of course there are many more issues that need to be addressed in regards to the court system and making it work better.

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