Life Project documentary defies harsh stereotypes of foster care age-outs

“Life Project” a documentary film project by Barry Thornburg (former college videographer)

Life Project is an observational documentary project that follows a young man who has aged out of foster care and works to secure a stable future. It is directed and produced by Barry Thornburg—a former College of Nursing student videographer; he is now working on a masters degree in film at the University of North Texas.

Children and youth that enter the foster care system struggle with the effects of trauma stemming from the abuse, neglect, or abandonment they experienced at home, as well as the trauma of being separated from their families. They fail to thrive when they are not given the resources necessary to cope with the trauma they have experienced. Many people treat foster children as problem children, at fault for their behavior and/or circumstances. However, they rarely do anything to put themselves there and the trauma cultivated from their challenging circumstances often manifest themselves through medical and behavioral symptoms. Too often, adults who interact with these youth and children fail to develop healthy relationships with these youth and children because they don’t know how to handle these medical and behavioral challenges.

However, the adults who have the resources and education on trauma-informed care, are more equipped to develop long-lasting and healing relationships with this population. Most often, the distinguishing factor between foster youth who thrive and those that don’t is a dedicated, responsible adult who mentors the youth throughout his or her development.

Everyone needs guidance and support at the major crossroads of life. Youth who age out of foster care is no exception. This documentary is designed to show what kind of influence mentors can have on youth and young adults as they work to negotiate the decisions made at these crossroads.

Donovan recently turned 18 and aged out of the foster-care system.

Donovan, the film’s primary participant, is confronting many of these major decisions after recently aging out of the foster-care system and facing the responsibilities of adulthood. The audience will intimately observe the intricacies of these decisions and how adults from different parts of his life get involved, for better or for worse.

What makes this film unique is that it draws upon his personal perspective. In addition to observational footage of him (gathered by a film crew), he is also given a camera in which he can record things that he thinks should be included in the film and giving him an opportunity to explain his decisions in his own words. This behind-the-scenes perspective can empower those in a position to mentor with empathy and understanding when interacting with people in Donovan’s shoes.

Whether it is finances, health care, transportation, employment or education choices, Donovan does not have the luxury of a traditional family support structure to guide him every step of the way or catch him when he falls. Social workers, medical professionals, educators and volunteers all have exceptional opportunities to mentor and guide youth and young adults in situations like Donovan’s because of their frequent exposure to them. This documentary will show us how they work with Donovan and how he responds to each.

This can change perceptions of foster youth, influencing child welfare policy, training, and education, and encouraging responsible adults to mentor these newly emerging adults.

This project has the potential to change perspectives about foster care and especially those that age out. There needs to be greater understanding and education about this vulnerable population.

Barry Thornburg

Because of many substantial donations of equipment, man-hours, and other resources, Thornburg’s production and post-production costs are very low. He is raising $3,000 to cover the remaining portion of his production budget, including transportation expenses, media storage, and obtaining needed equipment.



Click here if you would like to contribute to this Kickstarter project or to watch an introduction to Thornburg’s documentary. 


Published by BYU Nursing

Guided by the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we exemplify the Healer’s art by: leading with faith and integrity; advancing the science of nursing and healthcare; promoting health and wellness; alleviating suffering; and serving individuals, families, and communities. The mission of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University is to learn the Healer’s art and go forth to serve.

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