by Dr John Simmonds, Director of Research, Policy and Development at the British Association of Adoption and Fostering
Hollywood’s latest attempt to reboot the classic musical, Annie will be released in cinemas on Boxing Day. For those of you who haven’t seen the original, Annie is a depression era Cinderella story about an orphan who is rescued by a multi-millionaire, set in New York.
Sony Pictures has done its best to update Annie’s pathway to permanence for a twenty first century audience, removing the orphanage, and placing the children in foster care instead. Yet, whether you are a child in the care system in the UK, or the US, Annie’s adoption journey remains wildly unrepresentative of a child’s experience in care, and perpetuates dangerous myths. Here are four good reasons why:
1. “Come on rats, let’s go”
Cameron Diaz plays the bitter alcoholic and approved foster carer Miss Hannigan. She’s only providing care for these children so she can receive additional funding from the state.
In reality, the process of becoming a foster carer will ensure that the carer is well motivated, properly prepared and fully understands what being a foster carer means. They will be subject to background checks and references. They will undergo extensive training in child development, attachment and meeting a fostered child’s needs.
It is damaging to assume that children in care are trapped in abusive foster placements, waiting to be rescued by an adopter. Many children even go on to be adopted by their foster carers.
2. “Annie is never going to find her family, none of us are”
Annie is a foundling, yet hardly any children in care are foundlings. Frequently, children are in contact with, or know who their birth parents are. We won’t ruin the end of the story for you, but this has pretty big ramifications for the final twist in the plot.
Adoption services, like our Local Authority Adoption Agency of the Year, Devon Adoption Service, design services to help children resolve any insecurities that may arise during the critical transition from foster care to an adoptive home. This includes creating life story books, where the children and their carers can create a narrative to better understand their background.
3. “I bet if I moved in with you, you’d become President”
Jamie Foxx’s character, Will Stacks adopts Annie- he’s a multi-millionaire technology mogul and mayoral candidate. The good news is that today adoption is open to people with a whole range of personal, social and economic circumstances. As with Miss Hannigan, Will Stacks would need to go through a rigorous approval process to adopt Annie. This will also explore motivation, readiness to adopt and most particularly how the applicant might parent. This process should take six months for most people. An approved adopter would never meet a child in the street, and invite them into their home.
4. “It’s a hard-knock life”
There is one social worker in the movie, and he only makes a fleeting series of visits. It surely would be a “hard-knock life” if each child in the care system didn’t have a social worker who would keep a close eye on their well-being, meeting their needs and making plans for them. The importance of a range of support services throughout life cannot be stressed enough. When a child is first placed with an adoptive parent, there are frequent visits from the adoption social worker to ensure the parent and child are developing well together.
Do you agree that Annie misrepresents modern foster care and adoption? You can watch the trailer here.