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Film Looks at Plight of Parents in Child Welfare System

Stephanie Wang-Breal. Photo courtesy of the director.

Stephanie Wang-Breal. Photo courtesy of the director.

When child protection services takes a child  into custody, most people assume the parents are awful people and the child should be placed with another family through foster care or adoption, award-winning film director and producer Stephanie Wang-Breal said.

What most people don’t realize is the child’s parent probably loves them and may be struggling to find housing, a job, or beat an addiction so they can reunite with their offspring, Wang-Breal said.

“I think we all have so much sympathy for the children but we have little sympathy for parents who may have neglected or abused their children,” she said.

Wang-Breal hopes her new film “Tough Love” will give the public a glimpse of a side of the child welfare system that usually gets little attention — parents who have had their children taken into custody.

“Tough Love” looks at two families in New York City and Seattle that are working with the courts, social workers and Child Protection Services to bring their children home.

“Tough Love” will air on the PBS series POV on July 6th, 2015 at 10 p.m. Eastern. You can check your local listings here. To learn more about the film and how to see it visit the official website. You can also attend a screening in Washington, D.C. on June 17.

In Seattle single father Patrick Brown, who has had drug and gambling addiction problems, is trying to overcome these issues so he can get his three-year-old daughter Natalya out of foster. Brown makes progress but after an emotional July 4 holiday visitation with his daughter has a setback.

Hasna “Hannah” Siddique, her husband Philly, and two of her children. Photo courtesy of "Tough Love" film.

Hasna “Hannah” Siddique, her husband Philly, and two of her children. Photo courtesy of “Tough Love” film.

In New York City pregnant Bangladeshi immigrant Hasna “Hannah” Siddique and her husband Philly are struggling to find affordable housing so she can regain custody of two children from a previous relationship. However, Hannah and Philly are shocked to learn they could lose custody of their newly born child unless they soon find a stable home.

Wang-Breal said there is less sympathy for parents in the United States because many assume there are institutions that support them. However, resources to help parents who are struggling economically or who may have an addiction or mental health problem can be scant, she said.

“If we can get more people thinking about families and how to keep families together then we can have these kids in the long term have a better outcome,” she said.

Social workers play a key role in helping helping ensure children live in safe homes, building stronger families, and helping build new families through adoption. To learn more visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Adoptions and Foster Care website.




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  1. There is absolutely no help from the “system” to help those parents, as one might think. As a former mobile outreach therapist, I could not help my homeless families find affordable and appropriate housing. I worked with some for over a year and still could not connect them with housing. I went to realtors, housing commissions, DHS workers for help in deposits and first months rent to no avail, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, and even drove them to vacant apartment rentals, which by the i photographed and I would not move any of my family members into, so I did not expect my clients to live there either.

    I could help get them clean and sober, but could get not them out of their homelessness. Therefore, they could not get their children back. Some of them lived with four family’s in one household. Which ironically, was okay with DHS, as long as there was two heartbeats to a bedroom.

    It seems once the child(ren) is or are removed from the parents, there is little hope of getting them back because DHS and the foster families make money keeping the kids separated from the parents.

    Oh the judges, the lawyers, the advocates, etc., say there is help, but if someone has been abusing substances for ten, twenty years, the courts want them cleaned up in a year or two. Recovery is not a linear process or more people would be clean and sober. Some folks need years to get clean and sober. I pray this documentary will not be shoved under the carpet like our troubled and abused children and parents have, OR NOT EASILY adoptable children are. Most parents who have abused substances because they were taught that it was normal. You can take the diseased tree out of the diseased forest and nurture it, sing to it, love it, fertilize it and it will thrive.

    However, what happens to that same tree it you plant it back into the diseased forest?!?!?!

  2. I will say up front that Child Services is one of, if not the most important institutions we as a society have ever created, and I applaud the men and women who do this sometimes heart-wrenching job.

    That being said, also remember that the parents are still innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. People automatically assume that parents are horrible people if CPS comes to their door. In many cases, claims of abuse or neglect are found unsubstantiated.

    I will fight for the rights of children to my dying breath. However, we still need to remind ourselves that parents have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well.

  3. Why the heck is no one helping ..if u are in dss/CPS court an about to lose ur child object to everything that is said that’s untrue. This is no time to be shy, or not speak up. Once ur case goes to disposition u need to go to area in courthouse where u ask for free papers to file an appeal and request for free appeal attorney . IDK why the heck no one isn’t telling people this. When u object to things said in court it’s considered in an appeal. Only things that have occurred prior to filling appeal can be used in appeal and no new info may be brought out at appeal. So for God’s sake object to everything u know is untrue. If u keep ur mouth shut u can not win an appeal. .it’s based mainly on what was objected to in previous court hearings . I’m not an attorney but I’ve been through this with family members

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