Original Air Date: Sunday, January 11, 1998 - As a result, some program material may be outdated.
The original broadcast on Louisiana Public Broadcasting was followed by a live call-in program called Louisiana Foster Care: You Can Make a Difference.
On any given day, nearly half a million children in the United States are living in some form of foster care because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. The day-to-day struggles and rewards of life in a Seattle foster family are captured in Take This Heart, a one-hour special that explores the complex issues surrounding foster care in America. The documentary is introduced by actress Victoria Rowell ("The Young and the Restless," "Diagnosis Murder"), who was in foster care during her own childhood and who today actively works on behalf of children in foster care.
Take This Heart is the story of three boys who struggle to make sense of their fates, each in his own way. Robert, Jamil and Joaquin have been passed from one foster home to the next, eventually landing in the care of Tess Thomas, a state-funded foster mother. Thomas sees her work with children as "God's purpose for me," and although she never proselytizes, it is clear that her commitment derives from a serene and fierce spirit. Take This Heart is crafted from the modest and ordinary events of daily life, when small moments become dramatic, illuminating the dark sense of loss and emptiness borne by these children. Their stories reveal the remarkable resiliency and the tough-minded will with which these boys go on with their lives, not utterly consoled, but not broken, either. Unsentimental and restrained, the film is ever watchful for the gestures that signal a child's tentative sense of belonging. Take This Heart explores the experiences of a few children in one foster home in Seattle, and in so doing, gives voice to an invisible population of children otherwise consigned to silence at the margins of society.
The film begins as 10-year-old Robert arrives at Thomas' home carrying only a garbage bag of belongings. Lost and frightened, he is strangely inured to the traumas of being handed off without fanfare into the custody of strangers. The 90-minute documentary follows Robert as his anger and fear slowly give way to a fragile consolation, allowing Thomas into his life.
Celebrating his 14th birthday during the course of the film, Jamil walks a precarious line between an abiding, conflicted love for his birth mother, who struggles with a drug addiction, and his desire for stability in the Thomas household. Take This Heart documents his wrenching visits with his mother and his yearning for a place to call home.
Joaquin is a 17-year-old at the threshold of emancipation from the state foster care system, after five years in Thomas' care. Despite his deep sense of gratitude for the family Thomas has provided, he tries to shore himself up against the anguish of their inevitable separation. "I love her but I can't embrace her...because one day I'm going to be gone, or she's going to be gone; we won't be there for each other." Among Joaquin's greatest obstacles to adulthood and independent living is his illiteracy.
In association with the program, a major national outreach campaign, The Foster Care Project, will bring attention and coordinated action to foster care issues and outcomes, with an emphasis on building community resources to improve the lives of children and adolescents in foster care and the foster families that have stepped forward to care for them.
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Credit: New-York Historical Society - "Great Egret," painted in Louisiana 1821