The Kids We Lose is long overdue. It’s a story that badly needs to be told.
Weaving together moving interviews and rare archival footage, The Kids We Lose portrays, for the first time on film, the journey of these children, their caregivers, and their collective struggles at various ages. The kids don’t understand why they’re being mistreated and manhandled or why they’re unable to change course…they just think it’s their fault. Their desperate and discouraged parents hope there’s a better way, but have been on the long road of looking for right help for way too long. Classroom teachers feel ill equipped to help these kids, and have time constraints, high-stakes tests, overcrowded classrooms, budget cuts, and zero tolerance policies interfering with their efforts to retain their patience and compassion under impossible conditions. Caregivers in treatment facilities – which house large collections of challenging kids — often know that the practices they employ are counterproductive – and sometimes even know that such practices make them and the kids less safe — but aren’t sure what to do instead. The entire picture is one of alienation, disenfranchisement, marginalization, and despair. But there is hope. While The Kids We Lose is primarily an expose of unenlightened, obsolete, inhumane treatment, it also features schools and facilities that have embarked on the difficult path toward doing things differently.
Using interviews being filmed across North America, the film documents the punitive, counterproductive, misguided, inhumane interventions so frequently applied to kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. In the United States alone, annually, these kids are on the receiving end of three million in-school suspensions, three million out-of-school suspensions, dozens of millions of detentions, hundreds of thousands of school paddlings, hundreds of thousands of restraints and seclusions, and tens of thousands of school arrests. The Kids We Lose also shows how the misperception, mistreatment, and demonization of these kids begins at very early ages — the astronomical rates of suspensions of kids in preschool and kindergarten tell us it’s so — and simply intensifies as kids grow older and their difficulties grow worse.
In The Kids We Lose, we hear the kids describing how they’ve been manhandled (literally and figuratively) by the system; we also hear the self-blame and hopelessness that springs from being misunderstood and mistreated. We hear the parents describe how they have been inaccurately characterized as passive, permissive, inept disciplinarians, and we hear their isolation and desperation in trying to find the right help. We hear from classroom teachers — some of them “old school,” others fresh out of training – who have received minimal training on understanding and helping kids with behavioral challenges but who are nonetheless on the hook for making things work in overcrowded classrooms that include many kids with special needs. We hear from school administrators who feel tremendous pressure — from school staff and the parents of well-behaved students — to “send a strong message” and intervene in ways that are decisive, punitive…and counterproductive. And we hear from staff in therapeutic facilities, who describe what it’s like to listen to the wailing of kids who are being restrained (pinned to the ground by 2-4 adults) and placed in locked-door seclusion or solitary confinement…but who sometimes justify the use of these procedures out of concern for their own safety. The filmmakers also follow kids and families in crisis, capturing raw cinéma vérité scenes at home, in school, and on the streets.
Amazingly, while the plight and treatment of behaviorally challenging kids makes the news every so often – when a kid is led out of school in handcuffs, or when video of a school paddling leaks out, or when a kid dies while being restrained – most people are unaware of the tragic costs of misunderstanding and mistreating our most vulnerable kids. The Kids We Lose changes that.
The Kids We Lose also highlights the research that has accumulated on behaviorally challenging kids over the past 40-50 years, research telling us that these kids are lacking skills, not motivation. And the film also features schools and facilities where things (and lives) have changed for the better. There is light at the end of the long tunnel.