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About The Film

The Other Side of Fear follows the struggle of fierce reformer Molly McGrath Tierney, our film takes a critical look at outdated systems and innovative approaches in the institutions charged with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable group - its children.

To claim that this film could answer the questions that human services experts have spent their entire lives working on would be presumptuous and false. The child welfare system is a vast public bureaucracy, national in scope but local in its particulars, right down to the nuances of every single individual case. More to the point, the ‘industry’ of child welfare is already well aware of its own problems, and there are numerous voices calling out for reform, including researchers, policy makers and advocates.

A critical look at outdated systems and innovative approaches...

The mission of this project is to bring some of the issues facing the system to the attention of the public. Our belief is that if we can start a high profile public discourse about child welfare, with even a fraction of the success of a project like “Super Size Me” or “An Inconvenient Truth”, we can bring attention to a system in urgent need of reform.

• Some states report rates as high as 80% of prison inmates having spent time in foster care.
• Less than 2% of kids who age out graduate from college.
• 40-60% of young women are pregnant within a year after leaving foster care.

Concurrently, we hope to issue a stirring call to action for the general public to recognize and engage with current foster youth in any one of a number of ways, including mentoring, fostering and adopting.

Photo Credit: TedX Baltimore

Molly McGrath Tierney - The Protagonist

Given the sheer scope of child welfare and the necessity for focus, we searched far and wide for a compelling human subject on which to anchor the film.

Molly McGrath Tierney was the director of Baltimore Department of Social Services for six years. She was extremely successful, leading an expansive reform effort that dramatically improved the timeliness and impact of services to vulnerable citizens of Baltimore—including an 89% reduction in the number of children living in group homes, a 59% increase in adoptions, and a 60% reduction in the number of children in foster care. She left the organization in January 2014 to join consultancy firm Bennett Midland, to pursue her goals of bringing radical reform to child welfare across the nation.

Before she quit, Molly gave a stirring TED talk calling out foster care as a fundamentally flawed idea. She’s a charismatic, eloquent speaker and a truly dynamic personality who has both an insider’s understanding of child welfare and the critical stance of outsider. The talk was controversial, inspiring child welfare directors across the US and in Europe to contact her about her ideas. It also invited criticism from some working in the system she wants to dismantle. She has vision and ambition, and a concrete goal that we can use to craft a compelling narrative. The obstacles she faces are numerous and the stakes are very high.

Molly’s struggle will form the spine of our story. As we follow the ups and downs of her journey, we’ll use her as a jumping off point from which we can explore some of the manifold issues of child welfare. By no means will Molly be the only voice in the film. We intend to represent many different points of view, some in support of and others contradicting Molly’s vision. A full list of subjects that have granted us access is available on request.

Children’s Voices
Most importantly, we want to draw attention to the often unheard voices of the children. So far we have secured access to a number of kids who spent years in foster care and have been adopted. Their testimony is both chilling and heartwarming by turn. While consent issues complicate access to kids currently in foster care, we have been working with DCFS and the Family Court Judge in Los Angeles County to find child subjects currently navigating the system.

One possible device we are exploring, currently not employed in our video teaser, is that of dramatic recreations. These would be based off of the narratives of either current foster youth or recent alumni. They would be designed to encourage empathy for foster youth in our audience, and to give viewers a glimpse of the challenging foster care experience. It is extremely important to us that these kids’ voices are heard.


The Other Side of Fear

“Everything we want is on the other side of fear.” –Jack Canfield (by way of Molly McGrath Tierney)


As well as lending her formidable presence to the documentary, Molly has also gifted us with our title. Of her many tattoos, the most visible and striking are letters inked across the fingers of her two hands, spelling out FEARLESS. When turned inwards toward her gaze, they encourage her to display LESS FEAR. This declarative tattoo serves as a reminder of a key principal in Molly’s approach to life and public service.

As paradoxical as it should sound, ‘fear’ is present everywhere in child welfare. It’s found in the hearts of children who are removed from their homes and families and bounced around a system where there is little stability, familiarity or love. Many who grew up in foster care will testify that this fear, of abandonment or of abuse, never abates, staying with alumni their whole lives, at the root of deep psychological pain.

Fear is not confined to the lives of foster youth. It permeates a system that lives on a knife-edge of scandal, where the wrong decisions cause irrevocable damage, where risks cannot be taken for fear of losing jobs. Further, fear instills itself in the hearts of those who have made foster care their lives, who have made million dollar businesses out of group homes, for example, that have demonstrated time and again that they are terrible at what they do. This is a crippling fear that stifles change and inspires
decisions that benefit adults rather than the children.

The general public, the real target of this film, is by no means free of fear either. There is great prejudice about kids and families that are touched by this system, that they are damaged goods, or problems waiting to happen. Many parents who could be excellent foster parents never even consider it. Many neighbors, who see members of their community struggling, don’t reach out to offer a helping hand. It means that many people who could make a positive difference in the lives of children, through adoption
or through mentoring, keep their distance. Our film will draw on fear as one of it’s organizing themes, creating a call to action to promote a culture of fearlessness both in the system and in the general population.

Some Issues

While following Molly on her quest for reform, we’ll seek answers to the following questions:

  • Why does the current structure of Federal Finance (nearly $8 Billion) incentivize keeping kids in foster care despite such abysmal success rates?
  • Should the focus be on preventative services that strengthen families?
  • How strong is the link between foster care and the prisons, and is there a way to perform a cost/benefit analysis of a failing system?
  • Which states are leading the charge for progress and how do their most successful programs differ from the old way of doing things?
  • What are the steps required for implementing successful ‘evidence-based’ programs, such as Nurse Family Partnerships, on a more national scale?
  • What innovations are trauma specialists employing to undo early damage to child development and how successful are they?
  • Above all, why should the general public care about this issue, and what can they do to help?


Help Us Make The Film!

We are a sponsored project of the International Documentary Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Click Here to Donate Now