The 10 Best Documentaries on Foster Care

I was looking for the best documentaries about Foster Care. I didn’t find much.

So I scoured the Web and found these top ten.


1) We Gotta Get Out Of Here

Director Araki Playfair Jen’s 79-minute documentary, released in 2019, follows five LA foster youth: Mike, Ty, Tiffany, TeeJay, and Benson. Their childhoods were marred by abuse, violence, and drugs.

Mike, epileptic, suffers seizures when he forgets his medication. Ty, his “brother,” cares for him. Determined to rise above, Mike joins the Navy.

Tiffany and TeeJay, both HIV positive, support each other through homelessness and instability. When TeeJay moves to Texas, Tiffany stays behind, unwilling to uproot again.

Benson channels his anger into boxing, winning an amateur fight. His absent parents motivate him to succeed and reconnect.

The film exposes the broken California foster care system. At 18, these youth face a cliff – struggling to access housing, navigate relationships, manage health issues, and find their way with minimal support.

Yet their resilience shines. They find family in each other. They fight to rise above the statistics. As Benson says, “If you really believe you can accomplish something, just put your mind to it and focus all your energy on it.”

“We Gotta Get Out of Here” is a wake-up call doc. It breaks your heart and mends it.

These five unforgettable youth demand to be seen, heard, and cared for. Jen has crafted an urgent film about remembering where you come from and never giving up.

Watch it for free on YouTube (with ads) at You can also watch it for free (with ads) on Tubi at

Check here for the latest streaming options:


2) Tough Love

Emmy-nominated director Stephanie Wang-Breal’s heart-wrenching 82-minute documentary, released in 2014, offers a rare glimpse into America’s child welfare system. The film follows two parents, one in Seattle and one in NYC, fighting to regain custody of their children.

Through intimate footage, we witness the daunting bureaucracy of family courts. We see how poverty and prejudice keep families apart. The challenges these parents must overcome are immense.

Hannah, a single mother in Seattle, has her daughters Gracie and Emma removed after relapsing into drug use. She’s given a case plan with strict requirements to regain custody.

In NYC, Patrick loses custody of his son Natalya after his ex-girlfriend falsely accuses him of abuse. He struggles to navigate the system as a single father.

Both parents attend parenting classes, go to court hearings, and jump through endless hoops. They fight not only the system, but also their own demons and past mistakes.

The film exposes a system rife with bias and barriers. But it also highlights the fierce love driving these parents. As Patrick says, “I’m going to fight for my son until I’ve got nothing left to fight with.”

“Tough Love” is an eye-opening portrait of a broken system and the resilient parents caught within it. Wang-Breal captures their struggles with empathy and insight. This documentary is a must-see for anyone who cares about children, families, and justice.

You can buy the DVD of Tough Love at ($25 last I checked).

I don’t see any other options to watch Tough Love. Check here to see if that changes:

3) Children of the System

In this gripping 42-minute episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling”, released in 2014, Lisa Ling takes us inside the largest foster care system in the country: Los Angeles County. With 2.5 million children, the system is buckling under the strain.

Ling asks, what happens to kids after they’re removed from dangerous homes?

We meet 10-month-old Lily, taken from her mother Shannon at a restaurant. Social worker Vaison must find Lily a foster home within 24 hours. Thankfully, experienced foster parents Issac and Alicia take her in. They’ve fostered nine babies, giving them love and stability in a time of upheaval.

But there aren’t enough Issacs and Alicias. Due to a shortage of foster homes, siblings are separated, and older kids sleep in D.C.F.S offices. Social workers like Randy have unsustainable caseloads of 43 kids. “Something’s gotta give,” he says at a protest. “Every worker feels a sense of no support.”

The stakes are high. After the deaths of kids on D.C.F.S’s watch, removing children has become the norm. But is foster care always the answer? Ling interviews parents fighting to reunify, like Monica, whose three kids entered the system after she fired a gun to protect her daughter from an abusive ex.

Monica must prove she’s changed through parenting classes and supervised visits. After a year apart, the family is finally reunited in court. “There’s finally a smile out of you,” Ling tells Kaliha, Monica’s cautious 10-year-old.

Ling captures the daily dramas at D.C.F.S with empathy and urgency. She shows us a system hanging by a thread – underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed.

But she also highlights its unsung heroes: The social workers making tough calls, the foster parents opening their homes, the birth parents doing the work. In a system where so much goes wrong, “Children of the System” shows us the glimmers of what can go right.

Watch Children of the System for free on YouTube at

4) From Place to Place

In this 80-minute documentary, director Paige Williams follows three Montana foster care youth – Micah, Mandy, and Raif – as they age out of the system that raised them and set out to change it.

Mandy was orphaned at 15 when her mother committed suicide. Raif never met his father, who was in prison before he was born. Despite their rough starts, these “plucky underdogs” refuse to be statistics. With the support of their social worker Matt, they head to Washington D.C. to share their stories and advocate for foster care reform.

As Mandy says, “I was talking all the time when I was in foster care and I got shut down every single term. What I had to say didn’t matter. I can’t even describe to you what this feels like to be able to come and have important people listen and want to help make a difference.”

In emotional scenes at the White House and on Capitol Hill, senators pledge to work on “radical solutions” with Mandy and Raif. “It just gives me chills to think about what your story is going to mean for kids for years to come,” one tells them.

But the road is not easy. The film captures Raif’s ups and downs as he falls in and out of love, and the daily struggles of aging out of foster care with little support. As Mandy notes, many foster youth have “pretty wicked problems” that are “dealt with in the wrong way.”

“From Place to Place” puts a human face on the 30,000 youth who age out of foster care each year. It’s a call to action, showing how a broken system creates broken lives. But it’s also a story of resilience, hope, and change.

As one advocate says, “How we care for young people in this country really defines the strength of us as a country. It matters.” Thanks to heroes like Mandy and Raif, perhaps more of us will start acting like it matters, too.

Watch From Place to Place for free on YouTube at

5) We Are Dad

“We Are Dad” is a 2005 documentary directed by Michel Horvat. It follows Roger and Steven, two gay pediatric AIDS nurses who foster five HIV-positive infants.

They create a loving, stable home amidst a society riddled with prejudice. When one child miraculously tests HIV-negative, Florida deems him adoptable.

However, the state denies adoption to his dads solely because of their sexual orientation.

The film explores the legal and social challenges they faced. The story takes place in Florida, where adoption laws for same-sex couples were restrictive at the time.

The documentary received critical acclaim for its heartfelt portrayal of the family. It sheds light on broader issues of LGBT rights and adoption laws in the United States.

Prepare to witness a fight for family, justice, and defying a system stuck in the past.

Watch it Amazon ($.99 to rent last I checked. Here are the latest streaming options:

6) Angelo Unwritten

“Angelo Unwritten” is a 2017 documentary. Directed by Alice Stone, it explores Angelo Madsen Minax’s life. Angelo is a transgender artist and filmmaker. He navigates self-discovery and family reconciliation.

Angelo’s childhood in foster care is a key focus. The film shows his struggles with identity and acceptance. His experiences in the foster system profoundly impact his adult life.

Intimate moments reveal Angelo’s creative process. The documentary touches on art, gender, and family dynamics. It highlights themes of belonging and understanding.

“Angelo Unwritten” earned praise for its honesty. It offers a raw look at intersecting issues. The film is thought-provoking and deeply personal.

Alice Stone created the doc via $15,000 funding from Kickstarter

I don’t see any place to stream “Angelo Unwritten” right now. The last screening of it I heard of was at the Seaport World Trade Center, 200 Seaport Blvd, Boston, MA on May 31, 2018. You can reach out to the Director Alice Stone directly through

Note, it also looks like Angelo’s sister might be looking for him (based on a comment at

7) For a Better Life

“For a Better Life” is a 2018 short documentary directed by Yasmin Mistry.

I’m including it here not because I watched it (I didn’t (see the cost below), but because of the numerous awards it won, according to

It follows the harrowing story of Fekri Kram, who was sold for $100 and endured years of abuse before his plight was discovered.

After nearly a year of hospitalization, Fekri transitions to a group home.

There, he finds support, mentorship, and a path toward forgiveness for the family that sold him. The film delves into his journey of healing and recovery.

Directed by Yasmin Mistry and written by Kimberly DiPersia and Maxine Trump, this 10-minute documentary highlights the resilience of the human spirit.

Fekri’s story is a powerful testament to the impact of abuse and the importance of a supportive environment.

The only place I see to watch “For a Better Life” is through Good Docs at Strangely, you have to buy a “Collective” series of documentaries for $129 to see it.

8) Foster

“Foster” is a 2018 documentary directed and written by Mark Jonathan Harris, with a runtime of 1 hour and 53 minutes. It holds a TV-14 rating.

The film provides an in-depth look at the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the largest county child welfare agency in the United States.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Deborah Oppenheimer and Mark Jonathan Harris, known for “Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport,” reunite for this revealing documentary.

The doc features stories from individuals directly involved in the foster care system, including social workers, advocates, and foster youth.

“Foster” draws on extraordinary access to the inner workings of the DCFS, capturing the day-to-day operations and personal experiences of those involved.

The film provides a realistic yet hopeful perspective on the foster care community, emphasizing the need for societal support and reform.

“Foster” received critical acclaim for its balanced, empathetic storytelling and its call to action for better understanding and support of foster care.

The documentary offers a powerful and insightful look into the lives of those within the system and the broader systemic issues they face.

You can watch “Foster” :

Check here for the latest streaming options for Foster:

9) First Circle

“First Circle” is a 2010 documentary directed by Heather Rae and written by Russell Friedenberg. With a runtime of 1 hour and 12 minutes, the film is not rated. It provides a poignant look at the foster care system in the United States, particularly focusing on the western regions.

The documentary delves into the lives of families grappling with the implications of drug and alcohol addiction. It highlights the struggles of parents who have lost custody of their children and their ongoing battles to heal and change.

At the same time, administrators within the foster care system work tirelessly to support these families and enact systemic change.

Set against the isolated western landscape, “First Circle” explores the deep bond of family and the strength required to overcome addiction. The film captures the emotional and physical journey of both the children placed in foster care and their biological families striving for reunification.

“First Circle” received praise for its compassionate and realistic portrayal of the foster care system.

It sheds light on the often-overlooked personal stories behind the statistics, emphasizing the resilience and determination of families to rebuild their lives amidst adversity.

I don’t see anywhere to watch First Circle right now. Check here for the latest streaming options:

10) October Country

“October Country” is a 2009 documentary directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher.

The film has a runtime of 1 hour and 20 minutes and is not rated.

It offers an intimate and beautifully filmed portrait of the Mosher family in rural Mohawk Valley, New York, as they struggle for stability.

The documentary delves into several deeply personal and societal issues faced by the family:

  • War: The impact of military service on family members.
  • Teen Pregnancy: The struggles and consequences of early parenthood.
  • Foster Care: Experiences of children placed in foster care within the family.
  • Child Abuse: The lingering effects and trauma of abuse.
  • “October Country” examines the forces that unsettle the working poor and the violence that lurks beneath the surface of American life. It is known for its rare intimacy, sensitivity, and respect in portraying the Mosher family’s challenges.

The documentary was directed and written by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, and it stars members of the Mosher family, including Don Mosher and Desi Mosher.

The doc received critical acclaim for its empathetic storytelling and visual style.

It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Silverdocs Documentary Festival and was an official selection at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Watch October Country:

It’s also available to stream on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play for $ ($3.99 last I checked).

Check here for all the places you can stream it:

Netflix Foster Care Documentaries

I always like to include Netflix documentaries for my “Best Of” lists.

But, sadly, Netflix doesn’t have any Foster Care docs.

The closest thing they have is “System Crasher”. It’s not a documentary. It’s a drama about Nine-year-old Benni .

She bounces between institutions that struggle to manage her explosive outbursts. Desperate to live with her mother, she faces rejection because her mother cannot handle her behavior.

When Micha, a compassionate care worker, is hired, Benni begins to open up and form a bond with him.

Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, the film portrays Benni’s tumultuous journey with sensitivity and depth.

Thanks for reading, you beautiful person!

Rob Kelly

Chief Maniac, Daily Doc