Monday, July 6, 2015

Tough Love - Excellent PBS Documentary on Foster Care Debuts Tonight

Tough Love debuts this week on PBS. It’s a compassionate, thoughtful, non-judgmental and well-rounded introduction to several different perspectives in the foster care system. We follow the stories of a mother who had her children taken into foster care and is trying to avoid having her newborn also removed, and of a father whose daughter has been in foster care for over a year while he has been dealing with lifestyle issues; he is trying to be reunified with her before his parental rights are terminated. Along the way, we also hear the voices of the foster parents who care for the children, the CASAs who advocate for them, the experienced parents who advocate for the parents of those children, the social workers who manage their cases, and the judges who make hard decisions about which option will be the safest for a child.

Tough Love is balanced in its portrayal of the foster care system.  It acknowledges that a quarter million children are in foster care, and that nearly 80% of those children have been detained because of neglect instead of abuse. It correctly identifies the prevalent role that drug addiction plays in bringing children into foster care, while remaining understanding and hopeful in its portrayal of the parents whose kids are in care. Tough Love also gets the emotional nuances of foster care right. At times, workers in the system seem to be overly meddling, at other times, their deeply felt concern for the children shines through. The parents alternately show frustration, discouragement, resolve, and satisfaction.

Tough Love ends optimistically. The foster parents obviously love the child they are caring for and would adopt her, but rejoice when she is able to return home, celebrating her successful reunification by sharing a meal with her and her parent, offering their heartfelt congratulations to the parent, and receiving thanks from the parent for sharing their lives with his daughter for two years. He explained to them, “It’s comforting to know my daughter was in a safe place while I was getting better, and that’s a huge gift.” In perhaps the greatest testament to the positive relationship possible between parents and foster parents, the final return of the daughter to her father is finalized without social workers present. One of the best case outcomes in foster care is the reunification of a child with his or her parents and the addition of a loving support for that restored family in the form of a former foster family. Six months later, we see the father in court as all those who have worked on his case celebrate his successful reunification with his daughter.

Tough Love has the potential to help the public at large understand the often stereotyped and misunderstood world of foster care, while also painting a realistically optimistic picture of what child and family services and foster care could look like at its best. It begins airing tonight on PBS. 


  1. I would love to watch this! Any idea if it will be available on Netflix or Hulu?

    1. Hi Libby! I don't think it is yet, but digital and DVD copies are available for pre-order on their website:


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