Social Workers on Film

4 09 2012

Everyone’s favorite foster care blogger, Fosterhood, talked way back in the day (what, I have a long memory) about how inappropriate the movie “Heidi” turned out to be for children in foster care. I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. You have fond memories of a something from your childhood, show it to the children in your life, then realize how bizarre it was for you to have ever  enjoyed this.

Like when my mother read “The Velveteen Rabbit” to my brother and me, and had two sobbing children on her hands. (We were only three and five, but that book is sad.) Or when my aunt thought the 1970s version of The Poseiden Adventure would make for a great family night, for the kids too young to go see Terminator 2. Her eight year old daughter cried for hours, and swore off nautical adventures for a lifetime. And I haven’t showed it to a kid yet, but I watched Labyrinth a whole lot as a child. That movie’s alternate title is “”David Bowie’s Balls. Also Puppets!”

It’s even more complicated when you have children who are in foster care, or in some other sort of shitty familial situation. You don’t always know how they’ll react. When one of my girls was in a psychiatric hospital, the book Precious started going around, and eventually they did a movie night. Yes, some girls related, but it was also traumatizing and offensive to others. Sorry, but no one wants to hear, “Precious? That movie totally reminded me of you!”

Movies are tricky. Stories geared towards children have a profound fascination with horrible lives for children. Harsh orphanages, evil stepparents, and more dead mothers than you can shake a stick at. Plus tons of young women who see a man as their savior. I mean, come on Cinderella. You could have made bank if you worked with the mice to start your own fashion line, instead of chasing after a prince you hardly know.

On the subject of Disney, my goodness do they deserve credit for getting better. Mulan, Tiana…I can think of way worse role models.

I’m trying to determine which are good, which are maybe all right, and which should be avoided at all costs.

Big Daddy

I’m putting this in the avoid like the plague column, and not because it’s Adam Sandler. Though I do think we kind of said all we need to say right around Happy Gilmore. I saw this movie in theaters with my aunt and two cousins, both of whom are adopted. Everyone was just a little uncomfortable. The kid getting dropped off at the door, about to be snatched away until a biological parent (genes trump all!) shows up out of nowhere. It was a weird message.


I’m listing this one as “OK.” In the negative column, kids should not be expecting a bald millionare to swoop in and rescue them. There’s also a lot of talk about unwanted orphans and them being used for cheap labor. On the other hand, it’s a period piece. Things were shitty in the 1930s, and now they’re shitty in a totally different way! Annie doesn’t magically find a way to be happy by discovering a living relative (like in that unforgiveable Shirley Temple version of A Little Princess) but she makes it work. And you can totally convince your kids to clean your house until it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building, because they’re “playing” Annie! Trust me on that last one. I was so foolish.


No no no no no no no. One of the mothers I work with was planning to become a foster parent. Her eight year old biological daughter saw this movie, and became convinced that any foster child that came to them would be a murderous dwarf.

Despicable Me

This one does feature the orphan warehouse trope that I don’t care for, and kids being brought back from whence they came, so it’s questionable. But overall, I think it’s ok. We wind up with a non-traditional, imperfect, happy family. And SocialJerk kids love those minions.

Problem Child

I watched this a LOT. I borderline aspired to be like it. Whatever, it was the 90s. But the message that your parents will “return you” if you’re bad is not one anyone needs. There should be a secure attachment test in order to see it.

Lilo & Stitch

This might be my strongest yes. Not just because this movie is freakin awesome and hilarious. Not even because it features a social worker named “Cobra Bubbles.” (Though it does. It really, awesomely does.) The story is about a (non-white) little girl in kinship care. Of course there’s still the reopening of the scary social worker coming to check on them and maybe take the kid away, but at least for once she isn’t in an old school orphanage that more closely resembles a modern animal shelter. And the fact that the social worker is genuinely trying to help, while being a total badass comes across nicely. It also ends with the line, “This is my family. I found them all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good.”

I mean, come ON!

Country Bears

Now, I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen this movie. You know, because it’s based on a Disney ride and isn’t the first Pirates of the Caribbean. I just remember the commercial, in which a bear asked his human family, “Mom? Am I adopted?” To which she replied, “What? Of course not!” I think I remember it so well because of the tear my aunt went on about the idea of denying that your kids are adopted like it’s something bad. So no.

Hunger Games

This movie is not about kids in foster care, for once, but it is about a couple of kids with a profoundly shitty situation. I can think of a whole bunch of parentified children who can relate to an absent dad and mentally ill mom, fight to the death notwithstanding. It’s relatable, but also clearly fantasy, so it’s not too much. And girls can totally kick ass and shoot arrows.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I love Lemony Snicket. So does just about every kid I know. It’s exactly what it sounds like. These kids’ lives are unpleasant. But the real theme of the move (and the books) I think, can be summed up in the following quote: “And that might seem to be a series of unfortunate events, may, in fact, be the first steps of a journey.” Yes. Things are rough, but we’re moving forward.

Of course, whenever in doubt, just stick with everyone’s favorite magic orphan.




10 responses

4 09 2012

Ooh, I can play this game! We have a copy of Lilo & Stitch because I think it will be fantastic for the girls if we can get past the scary beginning part, which Mara hates.

It’s not about adoption at all, but my number one movie recommendation is Babies, the documentary about four babies in different parts of the world. It really drives home that there are lots of appropriate ways to care for a baby but that babies do need someone to care for them appropriately, and I think it gets the point across that “Maybe my mom/parents didn’t do what they were supposed to when I was a baby” better than talking about it can.

The only movie that has totally traumatized Mara was not anything adoption-related either but in Happy Feet, when the penguin sets out on his individual quest and leaves his parents behind. Apparently she couldn’t imagine anyone being stupid enough to deliberately leave parents and she just screamed at him and sobbed about what a bad idea it was. And now she keeps asking to watch the movie again.

None of this is actually applicable to anyone else, but it’s what I’ve got. Pippi Longstocking, yes, but Cinderella oh hell no.

6 09 2012

When I use media as a social worker I use it as something they can relate to often times picked by the clients. I used the movie, Pay It Forward to teach about karma. I used Juno to talk about consequences and actions. I think it depends on the group and to talk about how realistic it is. Juno, is cute, but not very realistic as we had a discussion about in my young mom’s group. I think media is great to use.

20 09 2012

as a birth mom and a social worker i have to say Just say no to JUNO

24 09 2012

Ah yes, that’s a good point. Are there any movies that you think have a good birth mom experience/representation? I’m not coming up with anything.

And Little House on the Prarie, really? I loved those books as a kid! How disappointing. I’ll have to look into this.

14 09 2012

I’d like to propose Anne of Green Gables for analysis. Possible also Oliver (surely there’s got to be a lesson somewhere in teaching a homeless orphan to pick a pocket or two?)

24 09 2012

Yes, Oliver! is pretty much a life lesson in how to get by. Or a cautionary tale-avoid men who surround themselves with needy teenagers in a nonprofessional capacity.

I will have to do a rewatch/reread of Anne of Green Gables.

20 09 2012

not a movie or social work related, but i bought my niece a copy of Little House on the Prairie…holy bigotry/racism batman! Was that there when I read it and reread it and REread it?

23 09 2012

wait. a. minute. did you say that they showed ‘Precious’ in a child’s psychiatric unit?? maybe i read that wrong.

24 09 2012

In the adolescent wing. Honestly, it was one of their less stupid moves. I was not a big fan of that place.

27 09 2012

How ’bout Free Willy? The whole thing comes about as a result of some court ordered community service.

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