A HOME FOR LUNA GALE
by Josh Costello, Artistic Associate
The seed of the idea for Luna Gale came to Rebecca Gilman when she watched a double episode of Frontline on PBS about social workers tasked with deciding the fate of children. Underpaid, overworked, and sometimes with minimal training, these social workers have to make devastating decisions -- and deal with the consequences.
Every day these social workers -- like Caroline, the lead character of Luna Gale -- choose whether to separate children from their parents. These decisions can literally mean life or death for the child. High-profile cases of children being abused or even murdered by foster parents and by birth parents have brrought blame and judgment on the system and on social workers themselves. Social workers are obliged to take children away from parents who are abusive or whose neglect threatens the children's safety. The top two reasons for children to be removed from their parents and placed in foster care are neglect and parental drug abuse -- and those two reasons are far more common than any of the others.
In all but the most extreme cases, the goal is to get children back together with their birth parents. Foster parents care for children until the birth parents complete a rehabilitation plan or otherwise demonstrate their ability to handle the responsibilities of caring for their child -- or until the child is permanently adopted. Termination of Parental Rights, or TPR, ends the legal parent/child relationship and is considered a last resort.
In the play, baby Luna is initially placed in kinship care -- rather than a foster family, she stays with another relative while her parents attempt to complete their rehabilitation. The is usually seen as preferable to placement with a foster family.
According to the most recent statistics from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, there are almost half a million children in foster care in the United States. A little more than half the time, these children end up back with their parents or primary caregivers. Most of the others end up being adopted or living with other relatives. About 50% of all foster children are out of the system within just one year. Just 9% remain in the system until their emancipation at age 18 -- like Lourdes, another character in Luna Gale. Iowa's Department of Human Services (DHS) provides a "Preparation for Adult Living" or PAL stipend for former foster children who have aged out of the system.
In Luna Gale, Gilman has constructed a narrative that explores the human cost of the decisions that social workers have to make. Her deep understanding of people on opposite sides of a dispute invites us to empathize with opposing characters.