by Jennifer Michael
Entering the child welfare system as a potential foster and adoptive parent is like entering the world’s largest Department of Motor Vehicles—the forms are endless, the lines are long, and you never know when your number will be called—according to the opening scene of The F Word: A Foster-to-Adopt Series, a docuseries produced through PBS and currently running on the digital platform SoulPancake. “We know that choosing this path requires patience, and we know we might even get our hearts broken, but here we go,” declares Nico Opper in the first episode of the series.
The F Word is a personal, sometimes funny look at what it means to adopt a child through the foster care system. Opper and their partner Kristan Cassady started making the series four years ago when they decided they wanted to grow their family by adopting through the child welfare system, but they couldn’t find honest, thorough depictions of what that process looked like.
Opper, a documentary filmmaker and assistant professor at Santa Clara University, decided to turn the camera on themselves and Cassady to tell their story. Over 12 easily digestible episodes, each running about 10 minutes, viewers follow the Oakland, California, couple as they navigate the emotional journey from becoming foster parents during the series’ first season, to successfully adopting their son, “J,” during the second season.
Opper hopes The F Word makes the process of maneuvering through the child welfare system more “tangible,” and gives a nudge to the many people who consider fostering and adopting but never take the leap. So far, since the second season debuted in May 2019 to coincide with National Foster Care Month, the response has been positive.
“We get a number of messages from people who say, ‘Yeah, we are going to go for it,” after they watch the series, Opper says.
But Opper is quick to point out The F Word is not a recruitment tool. The series includes voices of various parties involved in the fostering and adoption process to show how the system isn’t perfect and that happy endings are not guaranteed. Opper and Cassady interview other adoptive parents, their adoptees, children formerly in foster care who never were adopted, and parents who lost custody of their children to the system.
“We tried to bring everyone together and that everyone had room to have a voice,” Opper says.
In one scene, Opper interviews a father named Mario who lost his parental rights to three of his four daughters as he struggled with substance abuse. Opper asks, “Do you feel that we are on opposing sides in this story?” Mario says “No,” but with reservation. “I feel that you guys have a huge heart … and sometimes permanency is necessary, but then I’m conflicted at times too because I failed three times [at parenting] and when I was finally ready, I was grateful that I had the opportunity to prove how ready I was,” he says.
The F Word also approaches the issue of transracial adoption head on. Both Opper and Cassady are White, while J is mixed race— Black and Filipino. Early on, the couple makes it clear to their social worker that race doesn’t matter to them as foster parents, but they state their commitment to handling transracial parenting the right way.
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Jennifer Michael is a freelance writer and a former editor of Children’s Voice.