‘This is Us’ Reminds Us Again of the Difficulties of Foster Care Adoption

After a shocking, world-building Season 4 premiere last week, “This is Us” focused back on the characters we’ve all grown to know and love in the second episode of the season. Each was adjusting to their new reality established at the end of the last season — especially Randall, Beth and their girls, as they settled into their new home in Philadelphia.

*Spoilers ahead!*

For Deja, the adjustment came with a new desire to ride the city bus to high school every morning and back every afternoon. Randall, a transracial adoptee raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, simply couldn’t comprehend why his daughter would choose the slow, dirty bus over a ride from him or Beth.

As the episode unfolded, we discovered exactly why — and realized the impacts of foster care adoption last far beyond the adoption itself.

A Bit of Background

Back in season two, Randall and Beth chose to foster a young Deja. By the end of the season, they had officially adopted her.

It’s been a while since the show has directly addressed Deja’s foster care adoption, but the occurrences in last night’s episode show us that, whether it’s seen or not, adoption continues to impact the adoptee and their family long after the legal aspects of the journey are completed — something that Randall, clearly, hasn’t thought about for a while.

When Deja requests to ride the bus back and forth to school, an incredulous Randall decides to “test-ride” the route to see if it’s appropriate for his daughter. After Deja tells him to sit away from her for the most accurate recreation, Randall watches a man sit next to Deja, talking to her and harassing her. Worried, he intervenes and sits back alongside Deja.

She reassures him she can take care of herself, and he asks her why she is so adamant about the bus anyway.

“You moved us here. You wanted us to live in Philadelphia, so let me live in Philadelphia,” she tells him. “I had a whole life before I met you. We grew up real different, Randall. Something that makes you real uncomfortable reminds me of where I’m from.”

Deja wants to ride the bus because it’s what she’s used to doing — no matter what her new life with the Pearsons is like.

A Foster Care Adoptee’s Background

Here is the crux of the issue: A child adopted from foster care is not a “clean slate.” There is no “reset” button that occurs once the adoption is finalized. As much as some adoptive parents may hope to give a child a better life and help them forget the less-than-ideal situations they come from, they can’t. Those situations shape a foster child’s life and who they are and will become.

Therefore, as Randall figures out, it’s important to respect a foster care adoptee’s background — not try to “change” them. Deja may have a different background than Randall, but that doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad. It’s just different.

Randall eventually realizes how important riding the bus is to Deja — how it helps her feel more “at home” in a newly changed environment. After all, moving is a big deal to any child but, to a foster child who has moved homes and families throughout their childhood, moving can bring up a lot of emotions and stressors.

While adoptive parents want to do what they think is best for their child, they should stop and ask themselves: Will this make my child more comfortable, or is this just serving to make me more comfortable? Anyone who adopts from foster care must honor and respect a child’s background. It makes them who they are, no matter how difficult or traumatic their childhood might have been.

Whether it’s talking about infant adoption or foster care adoption, “This is Us” does a stellar job at addressing the long-term effects of adoption. Both Deja and Randall have to cope with latent emotions and memories long after their adoptions are complete. Adoption truly is a lifelong journey.

For more information about fostering a child or adopting from foster care, please contact your local Department of Social Services.

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