11 Care System Plotlines In TV And Movies That I, A Care Leaver, Love

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And yes, of COURSE Tracy Beaker is on here!

In case you didn’t know, it’s Care Day today β€” a day dedicated to celebrating care-experienced people! Here are some of the best care system plotlines in TV shows and movies that I, a care leaver, think are incredible.

You can find out more about the day by checking out the site or looking up the hashtag #CareDay21.


Despicable Me

Universal Pictures / Via youtube.com

Okay, okay, so the film contains some pretty silly moments (I, personally, have yet to see a Box of Shame in a residential care home), but Despicable Me gets one crucial element right: Margo, Edith, and Agnes are a true gift to Gru! All too often, TV shows and movies treat foster parents like self-sacrificing heroes who get nothing but hassle from their newfound family (think the truly cursed depiction of Kayla in Desperate Housewives). This movie proves that actually, it’s the children who are adding to the parent’s life β€” I mean, who wouldn’t want that adorable chaos in their home?


The Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Piki Films, Madman Entertainment / Via youtube.com

This quirky film stands out for me because of what can only be described as its top-tier foster care jokes. It’s easy for writers to become scared of mixing the (very real) grimness of many care stories with their (also very real) absurdity and humour, which is a pity because there are some truly golden comedic moments in this film which debunk the myth that care is an inherently dark and heavy topic. The absolute shenanigans that Ricky Baker and his foster dad get up to become the focus of this film without ignoring Ricky’s background (if you haven’t seen the hilarious funeral scene yet, I HIGHLY recommend giving it a watch).


Literally every episode and film in the Tracy Beaker series

BBC / Via youtube.com

If there’s one thing Jaqueline Wilson delivers in spades with Tracy Beaker, it’s accuracy. The author met up with a group of care-experienced people before creating her most recent works, and it shows: My Mum Tracy Beaker depicts a highly believable future for everyone’s fave foster kid. She doesn’t let her post-breakup depression or lack of resources stop her from being the best mum possible to mini Beaker, and while she’s worried about perpetuating the cycle of care with Jess, she remains imaginative and fun. I also seriously appreciated the range of experiences we see among care leavers in this show: some are teachers, some are incredible parents, and others are sleek-haired high-flyers with stunning Gucci belts (grown-up Justine, please teach me your ways).


Lilo And Stitch

Buena Vista Pictures Distribution / Via youtube.com

Sibling custody is a very real option for plenty of families, but I’d never seen it represented on-screen until I watched Lilo and Stitch! The writers did an incredible job of displaying the complications Nani faced while being a guardian and a sister at the same time, and I think it’s important that we see their relationship as both flawed *and* vital. All that nuance WITH an adorable blue monster? Yes, please.


The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

NBC / Via youtube.com

No, Will Smith’s character wasn’t officially in foster care while staying with his aunt and uncle, but that’s kind of the genius of the show! There are plenty of folks in unofficial care for all kinds of reasons, and foster care isn’t always as clear-cut as ‘no contact with the biological family’ or ‘in full care of biological parents’. Regardless of why Will moved to Bel-Air though, I enjoy how much of his vibrant, layered personality we get to see once he’s there! Also, we love to see a (kind of) care kid having incredible fun in a mansion with a literal butler at his beck and call (ugh, the dream).


Sister Sister

ABC / Via youtube.com

I used to binge-watch this series as a child, and not JUST because of Tia and Tamera Mowry’s iconic fashion. Sure, it highlighted the all-too-common practise of splitting up siblings in the care system, but it also showed a complex relationship between two very different (and both highly relatable) girls that was as funny as it was touching. The twins’ struggles through adolescence proved that we’re so much more than either our genetics OR our family background!


The Fosters

Freeform / Via youtube.com

This show doesn’t shy away from the tougher elements of some people’s foster care experience (we meet Maia in a detention centre), but it doesn’t hold back on the joyful times either! The kids express their individuality in the context of a supportive family, and we learn through them that there’s no such thing as a single care experience. Sure, the series is pretty soapy, but I enjoyed the fact that the foster kids are all distinct, independent characters who find their own sources of power throughout the show. Oh, and it’s great to see some LGBTQ+ rep too!


This Is Us

NBC / Via youtube.com

Deja arrives into the Pearson family having lived with her biological mother, great-grandmother, and a variety of (sometimes abusive) foster families. This isn’t her last move, though; she returns to her biological mother before appearing in and out of the Pearson’s lives as her home circumstances change. Eventually, she ends up living with the Pearsons full-time while maintaining a relationship with her biological mother! I loved how this series dispelled the myth of a single, nuclear family-shaped ‘happy ending’ to a care story β€” we see Deja grow, struggle, thrive, and explore in her own time.



Warner Bros. Pictures / Via youtube.com

For a full-blown superhero, I love that Billy spends a lot of this movie acting like a regular, flawed child. His foster siblings are a refreshingly normal bunch, too; Freddy jokingly tells him “It gets real Game of Thrones in here” when he first enters his new care home, and the writers don’t shy away from exploring Mary’s complicated feelings about getting into CalTech. Billy literally and figuratively holds his own unique power throughout the film, with his care-experienced foster parent saying “it’s not a home until you call it a home”! Major kudos to the writers for showing care-experienced people as adults after they’ve left the system, too.


Earth To Echo

Relativity Media / Via youtube.com

Alex is part of a group of friends who are losing their neighbourhood to a bypass, and his peers each have their own issues and struggles. It’s a realistic portrayal of care-experienced kids β€” think about the saying “you’re unique, just like everybody else”. I love that Alex’s foster background informs his compassion and bravery towards Echo, and I also love that this film examines care-experienced children’s complex relationships outside of the family home. Oh, and Echo is cute AF.


Orange Is The New Black

Netflix / Via youtube.com

We get to see Taystee’s adoption and Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren’s adoptive parents in Orange Is The New Black, proving that care stories can be vastly different. Taystee meets Vee at an adoption fair (and yes, those are real), while Suzanne seems to have been adopted at birth. Their stories cover plenty of important topics, like racism in the care system, the layered needs of disabled folks in care, and (of course) the link between care experience and prison. The systemic issues that both women face aren’t their entire identities, though β€” we see Taystee’s entrepreneurship and Suzanne’s creativity and compassion, and learn that even care-experienced people who share a similar environment can differ hugely.

Did I miss any iconic care system plotlines? Drop your faves in the comments below!

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