‘Possible Selves’: Inside the hidden stories of LA foster youth

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“Possible Selves” follows two high schoolers in foster care who are striving for college. Photo credit: PBS.

Possible Selves: Overcoming the Odds in Foster Care follows Alex Ballantyne and Mia Derisso — two high schoolers in foster care who are striving for college. The film highlights the triumphs and tragedies of adolescents transitioning into adulthood while dealing with the aftermath of the foster care system. It recently premiered for National Foster Care Month and is now available for streaming on PBS. 

KCRW speaks with Ballantyne and documentary director Shaun Kadlec. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Shaun, why the name Possible Selves? 

Kadlec: “I got to know the nonprofit organization First Star about 10 years ago. And it's a college access program that takes ninth graders and mentors them all the way through high school to help them get into college. And when I met the kids who are in this program, they absolutely stole my heart. 

They were up against incredible odds and a lot of hardship. But they had their eyes on the prize of getting into college and had the support to be able to do it.”

Alex, tell us about your experience. 

Ballantyne: “I was born to drug addicts. When I was 4, unfortunately, they could no longer take care of me. I lived with my grandmother until I was about 12, and then went back into foster care. I jumped around placements for a little bit because at the age of 12, a lot of group homes won't take you.”

Alex Ballantyne is one of two foster teens profiled in “Possible Selves.” Credit: PBS.

Shaun, what's the psychology behind that? 

Kadlec: “In the foster care system, if a family decides that they don't want the foster child to live with them anymore, they can give notice, and the child has to be gone within seven days. They don't have to give any reason for the notice.” 

That happened to you, Alex?

Ballantyne: “Yes, seven days. One of my placements, however, called an emergency hotline, and I was removed four hours later. So sometimes you don't even get that seven days.”  

How traumatic was that for you?

Ballantyne: “It was very difficult for me. My first foster family went on a vacation one time. I remember the foster dad saying, ‘We can only take you with us if you are family.’ I got placed with another family in Van Nuys for a week while they went on vacation. … All of this is adding on top of the question of: Why doesn't anybody want me? 

… It’s led to some pretty tough things I've had to come over in my life. I don't call anybody mom or dad, I don't think I'd ever be able to.”

Shaun, what opened your eyes the most about doing the documentary?

Kadlec: “In the process of making this film, I saw how much power we have as adults to shape and influence the lives of young people. If you get involved with a foster youth as a mentor, as a foster parent, or just as a friend, you can put them on a trajectory to success, and be the anchor of support that helps them through the difficult times.”



Shaquille Woods