No happy Hollywood ending


SUMMER movie hits this year included "North" and "Angels in the Outfield."

Both deal, in characteristic Hollywood fashion, with children looking for the perfect family.

In "North," the star is a pre-teen boy who is every parent's dream -- except his own.

His good grades, Little League batting average and Thespian successes go unnoticed and unappreciated by his self-centered parents distracted by the everyday annoyances of modern living.

So he decides to become a free agent, available to whichever parents make him the most attractive offer.

Aided by his lawyer and the judicial system, he gets the freedom he wants only to find that, in reality, his parents do love him and his own home is the happiest place for him.

Although "Angels in the Outfield" takes a somewhat different approach, the end result is similarly predictable.

In "Angels," three foster children -- all boys, though otherwise appropriately diverse in color and ethnicity -- take up temporary residence with the quintessential foster mother.

The boy named Roger, whose natural father tells him they will be re-united only when the last place Angels win the pennant, goes on a quest to make that unlikely event occur.

Aided by other-worldly apparitions, the Angels accomplish the impossible. But Roger's father doesn't live up to his promise.

Hollywood, however, doesn't fail us. Roger gets to live happily ever after with the Angels' manager, a former curmudgeon who is charmed by the boy.

Do I sound overly cynical about the message of a couple of harmless summer movies? If so, it's only because of the stark contrast between these movies and my recent and continuing experiences with the local Department of Social Services.

Aware of both the need for foster parents and the available space in my own home, my family applied to become a foster family a year ago.

The process was off-putting: a home inspection which we initially failed; a series of classes during which the most obvious insights were repeated ad nauseam; a criminal background check that )) took too long to complete.

Yet we persevered, resolute in our desire to meet what we believed to be a desperate need. We had specified that our home was available for a girl, age from birth to three years.

We couldn't stand the thought of an infant languishing in the hospital or in a dangerous home situation during that most important developmental period.

Finally, the approval came through. Almost immediately, we got a phone call: Would we take a 12-year-old boy?

I promptly said no. We have an 11-year-old daughter, and DSS itself had said that would not be a good mix.

A month later I got a call from the social worker in applications whom we'd worked with to get our home approved. Over the unexplainably long period of time the application process took, we'd become friends.

For some reason known only to the bureaucracy, she was now being (temporarily) pulled away from approved homes and had been assigned a teen-age girl who needed a temporary placement.

"Would you take her?" she asked. "She's a good kid, studies hard, has a job. She just needs a respite from her family."

But this was not what we had asked for, nor was it what we wanted. We huddled and decided to give it a try.

Our foster daughter came the next day for what turned out to be a seven-week stay. She was a good kid, who studied hard and worked hard at her summer job. But she did not wake up from a dream to find that life with mom was really where she'd be happiest.

Although she happily went to live with a relative, there was no movie star mama waiting to adopt her.

And what about the thousands of children who pass through DSS in a year? How many of them have homes to return to? How many of them find placements where they are happy and safe?

Our foster daughter wanted to go see "North." She could barely wait until it opened. I couldn't understand her eagerness.

Now I do: The fantasy of the big screen offered her a solution well beyond the power of reality and the Department of Social Services to provide.

Sally B. Gold is a Baltimore lawyer.

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