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A Foster Child on TV
This Is Us shows how hard it is to live with strangers—even kind ones
Tayia Day
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The NBC show This Is Us follows a set of grown siblings, with flashbacks to explain how each of them ended up where they are. Their mom Rebecca, who’s white, gives birth to triplets in the first episode, and one of the babies dies. That same day, an abandoned black boy is brought to the hospital, and Rebecca and her husband Jack decide to adopt him. Later, the children have to deal with losing their father, who dies while they are in high school.

As an adult, triplet Kate Pearson struggles with obesity and the search for love. Her brother Kevin, an actor, struggles with his work and with addiction. Randall Pearson, the adopted brother, searches for his biological parents and ends up fostering a child after he and his wife Beth have two girls.

The show is partly about how it feels to be raised by a family that’s not your biological family. The storyline of Deja, the foster daughter who comes to live with Randall and Beth, shows that it is hard for everyone, but especially for the child.

In the third episode, adult Randall tracks down his birth father, William, and finds out that his biological mom died while giving birth to him. William also tells him that he was a heroin addict and that’s why he abandoned baby Randall. Finally, William tells him he’s dying. Randall feels the need to introduce William to his family to show him how good his life is. Randall has become rich and has a big house and a fancy car.

Randall and his wife Beth are thinking about adopting, but Beth isn’t ready yet. Beth suggests that if he really wants to help kids in need, a better way is to foster and adopt an older child rather than a baby. Randall and Beth’s daughters Tess and Annie are young, around 9 and 6. They are uneasy about Deja coming into their home.

Deja arrives at Beth and Randall’s with emotional baggage, straight from a troubled foster home. At first, Deja seems sad about being in another foster home. The big house and perfect family is different from the rough life she’s used to, and she shuts down.

When they’re alone together, Deja asks Tess and Annie about the house. “You guys have your own iPads?” she asks, astounded. All three girls share a bedroom to make Deja feel more comfortable.

I went into care when I was 10, and my foster sisters were mean to me and my sisters and didn’t share things with us. I envied Deja having nice foster sisters.

Beth finds cigarettes in Deja’s bag. Deja says they’re for her mom Shauna, who she thinks is coming to get her. Randall and Beth tell Deja that Shauna won’t be coming back to get her since she’s in jail for possessing a gun (her boyfriend’s). When Deja finds out the news, she smashes a picture frame and storms out of the room.

‘When Do I Go Home?’

In Episode 10 of Season 2, Shauna gets released from jail and shows up at Beth and Randall’s house wanting Deja to come back and live with her. Deja convinces her to go home because she knows that the social worker needs to authorize this move. Beth and Randall think about pressing charges against Shauna for trespassing on their property, but they decide not to. Eventually, Shauna gets custody of Deja again.

Later, we see in a flashback how Deja went into care. She cuts her hand badly and rushes herself to the emergency room because her mom is nowhere to be found. Hours later Shauna arrives, smelling like alcohol.

Deja’s grandma died when she was young, so there wasn’t anybody to help Shauna, who was a teen mother. We also learn that Deja’s first foster father abused her foster sister Raven. Deja tells her social worker Linda about the abuse, and Raven gets mad about being moved again. “Do you know how many beds I’ve slept in? By the time I turned 9, I lost count. At least he only hit; we could’ve slept in those beds for years. Now we’ll get separated.”

I was in care for less than two years, though I am trying to get back in now. This episode made me think of how hard it is to be in foster care for years. It also made me wonder if some foster children stay in abusive homes just to avoid getting moved over and over.

image by NBCUniversal Media, LLC

After Deja leaves her first foster home, she asks her social worker, Linda, “When do I go home?”

Linda says, “Deja, your mom has been in and out of treatment for a year.”

“She only started using that stuff because she misses me,” Deja says sadly.

“I understand that, but I wanna make sure the next time you go home it’s for good. And that’s not the case right now,” says Linda.

I think Deja’s social worker did a good job. Deja’s mom showed many different signs of neglect—she wasn’t there to help Deja when she cut her hand; she used rent money to bail her ex out of jail; she used drugs while Deja was in foster care. So I think Linda was right to remove her from Shauna and also from the unsafe foster home where Raven was being abused. I believe Linda wanted Deja to be safe. I’ve had workers place me in abusive foster homes, so I saw Linda as a good worker.

The Meaning of Family

After Deja goes into foster care, Shauna continues getting arrested. When she does get Deja back, she struggles to take care of her.

Deja’s mom gets evicted, and Beth and Randall find them sleeping in a car. Randall and Beth let Deja and Shauna stay over at their house. Shauna sees how happy her daughter is with the Pearsons and leaves Deja with Beth and Randall.

I was disappointed in Shauna’s decision to leave her daughter with Beth and Randall, but then again she made the best choice for Deja. That’s the thing about foster care—sometimes all the choices are bad.

In the final episode of Season 2, Randall’s sister Kate is getting married to Toby, and Randall and Beth plan to take Deja to the wedding, which will be her first big family event. Randall and Beth are worried about Deja, who has been struggling emotionally.

At the wedding, Toby’s mom, who doesn’t know that Deja isn’t biologically related to the family, tells Deja, “You look like your father,” referring to Randall. Deja gets upset and breaks Randall’s car window. I think Deja did this out of anger for not having the family she wanted. I think she feels like she doesn’t belong in this family, so she acts out.

I like that This Is Us shows people struggling with foster care, weight, parental love, self-love, and family. I think it helps teens understand what parents go through.

The Deja episodes affected me deeply because I am trying to figure out if I should go back into care or try to make my relationship with my mother better. The parts with Randall also affected me because it made me think that maybe there are people happy about fostering and adopting kids. Maybe I could find great foster parents.

The meaning of family, according to the show, is that everyone should be loved the same regardless of where they come from. I think Randall and Beth are good people, but they should talk to Deja more and show her the world. They are also too harsh when talking about her mother. They should understand that Deja can’t give up on her mother. It’s not easy for her at all.

Season 3 of This Is Us will start in the fall on NBC. You can watch Seasons 1 and 2 on nbc.com, Hulu, iTunes, and other streaming services.

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