Weaving together moving interviews and rare archival footage, The Kids We Lose portrays the journey of kids with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, 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 maintain  patience and compassion under impossible conditions. The entire picture is one of alienation, disenfranchisement, marginalization, and despair.

Using interviews 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 American public schools alone, annually, these kids are on the receiving end of 5.4 million in- and 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 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, exclusionary, 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. 

Amazingly, while the plight and treatment of kids with concerning behaviors 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.

Read a review of the film in the Portland Press Herald
Read a review of the film in ADDITUDE Magazine
Watch an interview with the Director (Lisa Wolfinger) and Producer (Mika Holliday-Lentz) of the film on News Center Maine

“Thanks from New Mexico, where Organizing Parents Education Network (OEPN) just screened The Kids We Lose. Everyone who could be there (including three school board members) was moved by the stories, the message, and everyone’s work. Thanks to all the individuals who courageously shared their stories and their thoughts. We are moved, most, by the kids and adults who gave voice to what happened to them. Please let them know that folks over in New Mexico heard them.”

“I’ve supervised a program for students with emotional disturbances for over 20 years.  Although I’m very proud of our program this film has really made me rethink some of my beliefs. The thing that had the most impact on me was the parents’s pain.  I don’t think I’ve advocated enough for families when others (teachers and administrators)  blame the parents for the student’s behaviors.   I definitely want to begin solving problems instead of suspending students and will be more assertive about that in the future. Looking forward to learning more about solving problems collaboratively on the Lives In The Balance website.  Thanks!


Copyright 2020 Ross Greene