13 of the Best Movies About Foster Care and Adoption
Watching movies about foster care and adoption can be a good way to see from new perspectives, familiarize yourself with different types of families and see characters that you can potentially relate to. Particularly for children who are being fostered or who have been adopted through foster care, these movies can sometimes be cathartic or be used as a way to broach difficult subjects surrounding their experiences.
Whether you’re looking for movies about adoption or foster care on Netflix to cry over with a glass of wine on your own, or something family-friendly and more simplistic for young kids, this list should cover it.
Remember: movies about foster care adoption are going to be very much dramatized for the screen, so it’s rarely a perfect portrayal. It’s always best to pre-screen anything that you plan on showing your kids, so you can decide if it’s age-appropriate, or if it might trigger some traumas, and you can also talk to them in advance about any inaccuracies, difficult topics or feelings it might bring up.
With that in mind, here are some of the best movies about foster care kids and adoption:
In this sweet coming-of-age movie, three friends (one of whom is in foster care) are dealing with the loss of their neighborhood and status quo when they encounter a small alien who needs their help to return home.
“Tuck expresses the film’s message right before the end credits – that kids can do anything; that they’re not powerless. But what I see as an even more pronounced message is that foster kids, while having real issues, challenges, losses and sadness, can be the bravest, most loyal, most forgiving, and most dependable of their peers, and they can turn their experiences outward into kindness to help others in similar situations.” – Adoption at the Movies review
You know this classic story, but the modern retelling swaps orphanages for a dramatized unhappy foster home. Although movies about foster care or adoption might not always be the most accurate, it can be reassuring for kids to see themselves in a resilient and kind main character.
“Annie’s positive attitude shines in the midst of unrealistically and unhelpfully negative stereotypes of incompetent social workers and greedy foster parents… Kids who have suffered from disrupted placements or who long to be adopted, or who long for absent birthparents might find this film very hard – for those kids, parents should probably screen it first before deciding whether to share it with their kids.” – Adoption at the Movies review
Kids loved the first animated movie — in the sequel, a panda raised by a crane is addressed. Po searches for his birth family. This movie does a surprisingly great job of showing the love that both birth and adoptive families have for their children, and that love is multiplied in adoption, never divided.
“In the sequel, adoption is addressed much more directly. While attempting to defend a city from invaders, Po has a flash of memory of a trauma from his early childhood. …Mirroring a phrase from the first movie, Mr. Ping says, ‘I think it’s time I told you something I should have told you a long time ago.’ Mr. Ping then stutters out, ‘You might have been kind of adopted.’” – Adoption at the Movies review
This is one of those foster adoption movies that will have something that everyone in the family can relate to — the decision to dive into adopting through foster care, building family relationships and the complexities and joys of this unique experience.
“Pete and Ellie have enjoyed their lives as a childless couple. …After a conversation with relatives, Ellie starts thinking about having children. Pete makes an offhanded joke; he is too old to have an infant – but if he adopted a five-year-old child it would seem like he started having children at a reasonable age. Pete gives no further thought to his joke, but Ellie begins researching adoption, and her heart is touched by the profiles of children on AdoptUSKids, a website geared towards recruiting adoptive parents for children waiting in the foster care system. Pete’s heart is also eventually touched, and Pete and Ellie begin their journey towards certification as foster-adoptive parents; they ultimately meet Lizzy, Juan and Lita at a matching event. The film follows them through a very realistic experience of the California foster and adoption system, through their certification, matching process, and placement.” – Adoption at the Movies review
Someone realizing that they are different from their chosen family and grieving the loss of a birth family is a familiar experience. Watching a beloved children’s character like Tigger experience those emotions helps make those big feelings seem a little more manageable.
“The adoption issues of loss and identity are prevalent in The Tigger Movie. Tigger has often sung that the ‘most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one.’ Now he realizes a sadder side of being ‘the only one.’ Owl suggests that Tigger can find his family by first finding his family tree. Tigger shows a range of fantasies, expectations, and fears when he starts pursuing his family.” – Adoption at the Movies review
This is based on a true story, and depicts an international adoptee’s losses and gains with a lot of heart and honesty.
“LION responsibly, realistically, and healthily portrays search and reunion in adoption. Saroo’s adoptive family consistently supports his acceptance of his history. They support his desire to find his birth family, and rejoice when he finds them. Saroo’s birth mother has always waited for Saroo to return, yet she also fully accepts that Saroo’s adoptive parents are his family; she is grateful to them, and understands that Saroo is part of their world. Saroo finds his birth mother, and through her is able to find all the answers that he needs; finding her fills gaps in his life story but does not replace his adoptive family’s role in his life.” – Adoption at the Movies review
7. The Ride
The Ride tells the true and inspiring story of Scottish BMX champion John Buultjens, who overcame an abusive childhood through the love and life lessons of his interracial foster family. After being raised by a white supremacist family and bouncing in and out of juvenile detention, John is adopted by a black foster family who patiently help him.
Kinship placement is common in foster care, but it’s rarely depicted in family movies about foster care and adoption. Secondhand Lions does so while still being a fun, adventure-filled movie.
“Walter is used to being lied to. He’s accustomed to being left alone. His mother, Mae, is consistently entering new relationships with men and leaving him to fend for himself. She leaves Walter with two great-uncles, Hub and Garth. Walter has never met his great-uncles, but Mae leaves him with them anyway. She lets Walter know that Hub and Garth are supposedly quite rich; Walter understands that he’s supposed to get them to like him so that they’ll leave their fortune to him. And so, Walter finds himself being cared for by two cranky old men — but they become softer, and he comes to love them.” – Adoption at the Movies review
A Disney classic that might not immediately come to mind when you think of movies about adoption. But not only is Lilo in a kinship placement following the death of her parents, Stitch is ultimately adopted into their created family, as well.
“There are two strong adoption and foster care connections. Stitch is far away from home, living with a new family. His behaviors are destructive and many people are initially uncertain as to whether he can fit into this (or any) family. Some children in foster care exhibit behaviors that frustrate, worry, or confuse their caregivers. At the same time, Nani and Lilo experience the stressful involvement of child and protective services. This will be familiar to most children who have been in (or are in) foster care. Lilo has also experienced significant loss (her parents have died.) She comments, ‘I remember everyone that leaves.’ She prays for a friend. She wonders whether hers is ‘a broken family.’ She struggles with viewing Nani as both a sister and a mother.” – Adoption at the Movies review
10. The Blind Side
Another foster adoption movie that is based on a true story, this film depicts an older foster youth who still needs the love and support of a permanent family.
“Michael, 16-ish, quiet and somewhat lost, has been in and out of foster homes most of his life. He eventually leaves each one to seek his elusive mother, sometimes finding her and sometimes not. He owns the clothes on his back and an extra shirt. He hangs out at a laundromat. By chance, he gets into a private school.
Where he struggles academically. Where he crosses paths with SJ and later with the whole Tuohy family. Where testing shows that he scores incredibly low on every measured criteria except one: Protective Instinct, which is at 98%. This proves to be the key to both Michael's past as well as his future.” – Adoption at the Movies review
In another Disney classic, older foster youth are shown in short-term foster homes, hoping for reunification or permanent homes. They experience losses, disappointments and find new family.
“Roger and J.P. are two young boys living in the short-term foster home of Maggie Nelson. We don’t know much of their situation. Roger’s birth mother passed away, and his father maintains some contact with him. Roger asks when they will be a family again, and his father off-handedly says, ‘When the Angels win the pennant,’ meaning ‘probably never.’ Roger doesn’t understand his father’s intended meaning, and instead prays for divine intervention to help the last-place Angels.” – Adoption at the Movies review
Children in foster care often retain relationships with biological family members, and it can be tough to reconcile their new and old relationships and feelings. This film depicts a child who finds a way to make it work.
“11-year-old Gilly Hopkins has torn through several foster homes in Maryland. She’s recently come to the foster home of Mrs. Trotter, who also cares for W.E., a young boy who speaks very rarely. Mrs. Trotter also looks after Mr. Randolph, her elderly, blind neighbor. Gilly has no relationship with her mother, who lives in far-off California, but a postcard from her mother has her believing that her mother will come to get her soon. Gilly writes a letter to her mother, fabricating some complaints about her foster home. The letter leads to some unexpected happenings.” – Adoption at the Movies review
13. Martian Child
It can take a while to build trust in a new parent-child relationship, and Martian Child portrays this well. New families take time, patience, effort and love.
“David is a widowed science-fiction author. He and his wife Mary were pursuing adoption together until her death two years ago, motivated in part because Mary had been adopted. David has now decided to resume his pursuit of adoption. He is matched with Dennis, a ten-or-so year-old boy who lives at a group home. Dennis’ behaviors are peculiar. When David first encounters him, Dennis is hidden inside an Amazon shipping carton in an effort to escape the sun’s rays. David continues to learn about Dennis and comes to understand the worries that underlie Dennis’ peculiar behaviors. Dennis has been abandoned before, and David has to continually prove that he will not abandon Dennis.” – Adoption at the Movies review
Any other movies about adoption, foster care, or relevant topics that you’d recommend? Let us know so that we can add it to our list of foster care and adoption movies.