This Is Us: and the Depiction of Foster Care on Television

By Jordan Upton

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NBC’s hit show “This Is Us” brings experiences of adoption and foster care to mainstream audiences. The show has been praised for its accurate portrayal of the issues from many perspectives - adoptive parents, adopted children, foster parents, children in foster care, and the parents whose children are taken from them and placed into foster care.

In the first episode, the viewer is introduced to Jack and Rebecca, who are expecting triplets. When one child is stillborn, the couple finds out that another baby had been surrendered at the hospital that very day. They see it as a sign they are meant to adopt the baby and still have three children, triplets celebrating the same birthday. Viewers follow Jack and Rebecca’s storyline as they become Randall’s adoptive parents. Their trials aren’t sugar-coated for easy consumption, but show “real tensions that exist”, says Jason Weber of the nonprofit Christian Alliance for Orphans. Early on, Rebecca explains her struggles connecting with their adopted son by saying, “I grew the other two inside of me; he feels like a stranger.” The honesty in these scenes draws emotional responses from viewers.

Randall’s storyline as an adopted son doesn’t shy away from his inner struggles between fully accepting and being loyal to his adopted family, and his quest to find his biological family.

In season two, the show begins to tackle experiences of foster care. The show highlights Randall and his wife’s arguments, hesitations, and ultimate decision to foster in a way that reflects real life. Viewers are introduced to their first foster daughter, Deja, and see flashbacks of her story: multiple foster homes, carrying her only belongings from place to place in a trash bag, abuse from former foster parents. These scenes are heartbreaking and even more tragic because of their accuracy.