Everyone knows what happens when children are left without family to take care of them; they are placed into the foster system, with varying results. Many of the children, most of whom come from abusive backgrounds to begin with, are re-victimized within the system. Some are fortunate to find loving, adoptive families. But those who do not eventually "age out" of the system; this can happen at the age of 18, but in some states the upper limit is age 21. For children who had few role models growing up, this can be a daunting transition at best. The 2004 documentary "Aging Out" chronicles this process.
As the documentary asks, "What happens when you're too old for foster care?" Seventeen-year-old David, who lives in California, is in his twentieth foster care placement and understandably has ambivalent feelings about one day having a family of his own. He has already been involved with the justice system, after recently having been imprisoned for burglary. Eighteen-year-old Risa, who like David lives in California, was the victim of abuse and neglect at the hands of her parents. She entered the foster care system at the age of 9 and is the first in her family to graduate high school. Daniella, who lives in New York City, is 20 and about to become a parent herself. She was severely abused by her father. Aging Out follows the three as they gingerly navigate their way out of the system.
Because this is real life and not Hollywood, the epilogue is bittersweet, sometimes just plain bitter. Be sure to stay tuned Aging Out's epilogue. Epilogues that are included with documentaries (the stellar The Lost Boys of Sudan comes to mind) are especially appreciated, because a well-done doc creates a sense of personal investment in the characters.
The film relies upon interviews, occasional narration, and footage of the three young adults' daily lives to tell the story. Overall, the technique is very effective, even suspenseful, as the often unpredictable stories are told. Perhaps even more troubling than the stories of the three young adults profiled by this documentary are the harrowing stories of childhoods filled with drug-abusing parents, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect. How can a government system possibly be expected to fix such a horrific start to life? Sadly, there are no easy answers.
Keeping in mind that this is a documentary, and those who create them are often more focused on the story they are telling rather than the picture quality, the quality of this particular disc is very good. Presented in a widescreen format, the colors and picture are sharp and clear, which is a pleasant surprise.
The sound quality is just adequate. At times, an echo can be heard, especially during the inside scenes, and during the outdoor scenes the ancillary sounds of the neighborhoods occasionally get in the way of the experience.
There are only two extras of note, consisting of case studies of other foster children about to age out of the system. The first one features the uplifting story of 20-year-old Thomas, who was abused by a drug-addicted mother before being shuffled around from shelters to foster homes, to group homes. Thomas is understandably anxious about being only months away from aging out as he struggles to maintain full-time enrollment in college and find work, not to mention attempt to make peace with his past and absence of family support. He insists on doing things his own way, which means frequent conflicts with authority figures.
Keely entered the system at age 16 after her parents died of AIDS in her youth. She was abused by her mother and barely knew her father. Like Thomas, Keely is also getting ready to live independently. She commutes many hours a day from her South Bronx home to a job in a hospital and has frequent contact with her caring, committed independent living counselor, who stays with her long after the state's legal commitment to Keely ends. Life on her own is not easy, and Keely must also battle depression, which interferes with her ability to work, as well as an unexpected surprise that further complicates matters.
It is an ever-increasing trend for DVDs to feature throwaway extras that are mere filler; these two shorts, which average about 20 minutes each in length, are incredibly moving and absorbing, especially when both Thomas and Keely discuss in detail how difficult life is with no parents to guide them.
Watch this documentary and see if by the end of it you are not more grateful for the people in your own life. The stories featured within Aging Out are touching, terrifying, and inspiring. Put it on your "must see" list.