Interview with the Creator of Foster Care Film ReMoved

In this guest blog post, filmmaker Nathanael Matanick talks about his short film, ReMoved. In 13 fast-moving minutes, the film conveys the complexity of the emotions of a child in the foster care system.

ReMoved has been recognized with awards at several independent film festivals. Since its release online in March, it has gone viral, especially among groups dealing with child welfare and foster care.

What drew you to this topic for a film?

Interview with the Creator of Foster Care Film ReMoved

My wife and I were training to become foster parents. We see fostering as something that is critical, not just because of the huge need for it, but also because it’s so important to God.

We were taking a series of foster parenting classes through an organization called Arrow. Our teacher did an incredible job of helping us understand what these kids feel and go through. During one class we watched a PowerPoint presentation of things foster kids might say if they were able to process what’s happening. Hearing their thoughts broke our hearts. After the class we both turned to each other and said, “we have to make this into a short film.”

We wanted to make something that could help more people have the experience we had in our class—the experience of seeing how these kids feel.

ReMoved has been recently featured on the Huffington Post, and it’s won several film festival awards. Have you been surprised by the reception so far?

We’ve been very surprised by the response the film has had. Seeing it get picked up as a training tool by so many agencies, having it be featured at film festivals and watching hundreds of thousands of people pass it around online has been so fulfilling. When it hit 10,000 views a few days after I made it public online I was jumping up and down.

The film’s success makes us feel like all the effort all of us (including the cast and crew that worked for free) put into it was worthwhile.

The best thing by far, though, is all the response we’ve been getting from former foster youth and hearing how the film has been healing for them to watch. That alone blows our minds. If this can be a tool to help foster kids process their experiences, as a few social workers have recommended to us, then that is amazing beyond what we ever hoped for the film.

To what do you attribute the film’s success, why do you think this film resonated with viewers?

We wanted to create the film because the topic struck a nerve with us. There’s no way we could have pulled the film off on our own with no budget. But many people with the same heart gathered with us to make it happen. And likewise, we had no network to distribute it, but I think it also struck a nerve for viewers, so people shared it.

One takeaway for us is if you want people to watch something, make it something people care about. I see so many flaws in the film, which a few people have pointed out online, but because the film is about something that is so rarely talked about in a major way (broken families / suffering kids), people ignore the flaws and see the bigger picture.

Abby White plays the main character. We understand that this was her first time acting, and she’s phenomenal. How did you cast the film?

Interview with the Creator of Foster Care Film ReMoved

The Whites were our neighbors during the making of the film. Our kids would often play together. And Abby is a natural performer. After my wife and I had decided we wanted to make this film we asked Abby’s parents what they thought of letting us try out Abby for the role. They graciously allowed us to ask Abby. So they brought her over one evening and we explained the idea to her and what she would be required to do. She handled it very adult-like, but you could tell she was ecstatic inside.

We took out a camera just to get a feel for working with her, and to see how she could do on camera. And she rocked. Before shooting we talked through the scenes with Abby, we practiced crying and screaming together, and we had her learn a little bit about what these kids from broken homes go through. We even gave her the script so that she could make edits. She altered a lot of it to make it something she felt she could say naturally—as a kid (even though a kid would obviously not come up with those lines in the first place). She took it very seriously and dedicated herself to being a good representation of these kids.

Abby worked long hard days on set (four days of shooting) and doing school work with an on-set teacher in between takes.

After the shooting was finished we recorded the voice over at her house. Her dad set up a makeshift recording studio in their bathroom, and my wife (who wrote the script) along with Abby’s parents guided Abby through the reading of it. We asked Abby to think about something sad while she read it, and she focused on that sad thing, and I think it worked out great.

Many members of the CASA/GAL network have embraced ReMoved, as well as many other child welfare organizations sharing it with their supporters. What are you most hoping everyone will take away from seeing the film?

Our original goal for this film was that it would be used as a tool for recruiting and training foster parents. If people watch this and then consider looking into foster parenting, then we feel the film has been a success.

Watch the film

ReMoved from HESCHLE on Vimeo.

Posted in Foster Care, General, Guest Blogger, Video | 20 Comments

Valuing Volunteers

Valuing Volunteers

By National CASA CEO Michael Piraino

This being National Volunteer Week, let’s ask, “what’s the value of volunteering?”

Nearly 65 million US residents volunteer each year.  This is an extraordinary resource helping in myriad ways to improve life in the United States.

According to Independent Sector, the value of a volunteer hour in the United States is $22.14.  Using that estimate, the value of volunteering exceeds $175 billion a year.

This is an average based on average earnings of non-management, non-farm workers. It’s probably far too low as an estimate of the value of volunteers who offer their specialized skills in their volunteer work. For example, lawyers who do pro bono work representing low income clients, orthodontists who provide free treatment for children, social workers supporting veterans and their families, or experienced business professionals who put their skills to use through programs like RSVP.

The estimate is also of limited use when it comes to specialized and intensive forms of volunteering, such as advocating for children who have been abused or neglected.

You can also put a dollar value on the way volunteers avoid bad outcomes for the people they help. For example, the dollar value of saving a 14-year-old from a life of crime is reliably estimate at between $2.6 and $5.3 million.

But the truth is this: the value of volunteering is not a dollar figure. It is impact. As a colleague recently said “volunteers can do anything!” I recently spoke with a CASA volunteer who has stuck with her assigned sibling group for six years. Through the years she has consistently stood by them, helped them through all kinds of life challenges. The value of a consistent, trusted and appropriate adult relationship for children who have never experienced that before is priceless.

And the impact goes two ways. Whenever we talk with volunteers, one experience always shines through: “I think the kids did more for me than I did for them.”

The reward for volunteering is not measured in dollars. It is measured in lives lifted up. The lives of both those who are helped and those who volunteer.

So for me, the best measurement of a volunteer’s value is this: the light of hope that shines in an abused child’s eyes who learns that the most consistent adult presence in her life is not being paid.

As 16-year old Selina reflected in a thank you letter to her CASA volunteer:

“I just wanted to let you know that I greatly appreciate everything you’ve done for my family and me. You have been there since the very beginning, and I know you were one of the few who really cared.”

The value of volunteering is you. To volunteer to help an abused or neglected child, go to CASAforChildren.org. Or join our friends at the National Cares Mentoring Movement who have a vision of supporting a positive future for African American Youth. Or find many other ways to put your skills to use as a volunteer at the Points of Light Foundation website.

Posted in Child Advocacy, Foster Care, General, Volunteer, Youth | Leave a comment

The Most Tragic Consequence of Child Maltreatment

The Most Tragic Consequence of Child MaltreatmentThe abuse and neglect of children can have awful consequences that last a lifetime. And sometimes that lifetime is all too short. Child maltreatment kills.

This may be hard to believe, but we don’t actually know how many children in this country die every year from maltreatment by a parent or caretaker. The federal government’s key publication of statistics on the maltreatment of children acknowledges that “The effects of child abuse and neglect are serious, and a child fatality is the most tragic consequence.” Yet each year, we only get an estimate of the number of fatalities.

The most recent estimate is for 2012, and suggests that there were about 1,640 child maltreatment fatalities. While the estimates show both the number and the rate increasing since 2010, comparisons from year to year are difficult. It was only in 2011 that federal law (the Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act
P.L. 112-34) stated that states should report fatality numbers from a wider range of available data sources, including vital statistics, child fatality review teams, law enforcement, and medical examiners or coroners.

Of great concern is the number of fatalities among children who are known to our nation’s child protection systems. If you look up the numbers of children who “exited” foster care in 2012, you will find that 327 left care because they died. But this includes children who died for any reason, not just due to maltreatment. And it doesn’t include children who were known to child protection authorities but not brought into the child welfare system.

OK, you may think, but the federal government is probably holding states accountable on this issue. However, if you read the Children’s Bureau’s report to Congress assessing state performance in child protection, under the heading “Summary of Findings Regarding Keeping Children Safe,” you will learn that maltreatment has consequences for physical and mental health, for educational achievement, and for trauma symptoms in children. Yet there is no mention in that summary that children may die. This most tragic consequence of child maltreatment is not a separately reported outcome measure, but is instead lumped together with other forms of maltreatment.

Let’s think about the issue this way. Just one child death due to maltreatment is one too many. Yet we are losing children at the rate of one every 5.3 hours. And nearly three quarters of them are under three years old.

Doesn’t this sound like a profound tragedy? What if child abuse and neglect were a disease affecting the health and well-being of 686,000 children a year, and killing one every five hours? I bet concerned citizens would be falling over themselves demanding action.

Well, some are. And as we prepare for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, observed each year in April, now would be a great time to join them. Here are four ways you can help:

Get involved today, because children’s lives are at stake.

Posted in Child Abuse Prevention, Child Advocacy, General, Opinion, Youth | 1 Comment

We Are for the Child – and the Social Worker

By National CASA CEO Michael PirainoWe Are for the Child   and the Social Worker

“This is my team. The team that saved my life.”

Those were the words of a young woman I met 12 years ago who had spent several years in foster care. She was talking about a remarkable group of people: her lawyer, her CASA volunteer and her social worker.

At CASA for Children, we know that every day, social workers help keep abused and neglected children safe. We share a commitment to ensuring that these children are treated with dignity and respect, and that they and their families receive the help they need so the children can have a safe, permanent home. It’s an important job and a difficult one. A child’s safety and well-being are always at stake.

March is National Social Work Month. It’s a good time to honor this profession that takes on such an important and difficult task. One way to support this critical work is to recognize that social workers in the nation’s child welfare systems often have caseloads that make it challenging to serve these children and families effectively.

It is pretty clear that difficult economic times make the social worker’s job more challenging. Child abuse reports tend to increase when unemployment increases. Court-appointed special advocates around the country have for some months now noticed increasing cases of more serious abuse or neglect of children.

Unfortunately, this is also a period in which the nation’s child welfare systems are themselves less able to handle the job of protecting vulnerable children. At a time when it would make the most sense to increase funds for prevention, states are most likely to be reducing that funding.

When child maltreatment increases and caseloads are high, children are less likely to receive the individual attention they need and deserve. And often unfairly, it is overburdened caseworkers who shoulder the blame when something goes wrong. It is important to recognize the time constraints these professionals face as they try to keep children safe. According to a study in New York State, child welfare workers were able to spend about a fourth of their time in contact or communication with children and families. A third of their time is spent on required documentation.

There is fortunately an effort underway to recruit and retain more professional social workers. It seems clear that professionally trained social workers are especially well equipped to handle the stresses of protecting children. Compared to child welfare workers generally, they are more likely to have the training they need, the manageable caseloads, the time and the support to perform this essential function.

Because we at CASA are for the children, we are also for the social workers, who believe that every child deserves a safe, permanent home.

Posted in Child Abuse Prevention, Child Advocacy, General, Opinion, Partners | Leave a comment

Valuing the Things Money Cannot Buy

In this guest blog post, Matthew Perkins describes the events in his life that led him to become a CASA volunteer.

Valuing the Things Money Cannot Buy

"Some might think I've had a rough life. But that is not the case. I have been tremendously blessed."

I like to tell people that I became a CASA volunteer because the Richland County CASA Program’s executive director—who also happens to be my neighbor—wouldn’t take no for an answer. It felt like every day she was asking me when I was going to train to be a CASA volunteer. I say that I became a volunteer to get her off my back. But that’s not the real reason.

I became a CASA volunteer eight years ago because I know firsthand the difference a strong adult can make in a young person’s life. My mother raised three boys by herself. She was a disciplinarian. When I was growing up one of the worst things I could do was to upset my mom. Let’s just say that the things my mom did parents can’t do anymore.

I ended up being the man of the house at an early age. The expectation was for me to help provide. As a child I was always working—picking tobacco, picking cotton. If a truck came by wanting field workers, my mom put me on it. At the time, it made me angry. I felt like I shouldn’t have to go work in the fields, I should be playing with the other kids. But it also made me appreciate the things I did have—and the people who have looked out for me in life.

One of those people was Aaron Davis. I met Aaron the same year I bought my first car: 1978. The car I bought was the worst one on the lot. Suddenly I had a monthly car payment—and a monthly repair bill.

Aaron was about 25 years older than me. He was a great mechanic and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. Aaron knew that I didn’t have any money. So rather than taking what little I could offer him, Aaron showed me how to fix my own car. It was one of many things I learned from Aaron, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

When I got married, Aaron and his wife stood in for my parents. And when Aaron recently celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary, a few of us who Aaron helped over the years hosted a party they’ll never forget. It was the least I could do. We could never repay him for looking out for us. There are some things that money just can’t buy.

I became a CASA volunteer because I know that there are a lot of children growing up like I did, who need guidance, support, someone to take an interest in them. Children need to see somebody be successful—somebody who looks like them and sounds like them. African American boys especially. Our boys don’t see that a lot of times, and the situation they are in becomes the norm.

In the last eight years I’ve worked with close to 100 foster kids—along with some amazing social workers, foster parents and family members. I’ve watched boys grow up to impressive young men, heading off to college, to the military, to lead the rich lives they deserve. I feel lucky to have been part of the “village” of people who supported their success.

Some might think I’ve had a rough life. But that is not the case. I have been tremendously blessed.

Matthew Perkins is a volunteer with the Richland County CASA Program in Columbia, SC. He is one of the founding members of the “CASA Quarterbacks,” a group of men who actively recruit African American men to advocate for abused and neglected children as CASA volunteers. Matthew was recently recognized for his service by being inducted into the Richland County CASA Quarterback’s new “Hall of Fame.”

Learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer at  CASAforChildren.org/Volunteer.

Posted in Child Abuse Prevention, Child Advocacy, Guest Blogger, Volunteer | 2 Comments