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Short Term 12: A heartbreaking and inspiring window into at-risk teens

Written By | Aug 26, 2013

Washington, August 26, 2013 — After college, filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton set out in search of a job. What he found would not only change his life but also the lives of many others.

Short Term 12 is a captivating film based on Cretton’s experiences working in a California group home for “at risk” teenagers.

The film is heartbreaking and filled with an emotional honesty and talent for storytelling that places us squarely in the chair next to Cretton’s characters.

As we watch through the eyes of “Grace,” the staff supervisor brilliantly played by actress Brie Larson, our heart is stolen by the broken and battered lives Grace so desperately wants to mend. We soon discover that her dedication to saving at risk children has a deeper purpose as her own ordeal as a survivor of childhood sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father is revealed.

Playing Grace’s love interest, “Mason,” in Short Term 12 is actor John Gallagher Jr. Mason is a foster child raised in a loving household, and Gallagher skillfully embodies his character with a hope and optimism for life as he struggles to save Grace from the darkness of her past.

Group homes like the one portrayed in Short Term 12 are an oasis for the lost and forgotten children of the world. Removed from abusive households, they dream of a life without chaos and hope for peace. Some find their dreams fulfilled through Foster Homes or adoption, but many are so badly scarred by their abuse that a group home is the only place they will ever know safety.

In Short Term12, actor Keith Stanfield delivers a particularly moving performance as “Marcus,” an aspiring rapper rescued from a physically abusive mother.

Marcus is fast approaching the age of eighteen which will bring discharge from Short Term 12. We are brought to tears as his “tough guy” persona is slowly peeled away and the pain of a small boy abused by the one person in his life he desperately needed love from is revealed. Marcus cannot face a life beyond Short Term 12 and as his time there draws to a close, he is consumed by the fear of being beyond its safety. Ultimately Marcus learns that to conquer his fear he must protect the child inside him by recognizing the man he has become.

We also watch as Grace desperately tries to straddle two worlds. At times she seems to function seamlessly in the realm of her peers, but when the pain that lies so deep within her is triggered, her emotions and her behavior become a slave to the chaos of her childhood.

Grace’s childhood trauma draws her to the residents of the group home where she feels a safety and a kinship among the wounded souls. Grace hovers between a life of happiness and the pain of her childhood. She is driven by her fear of having it all taken away in an instant and haunted by the ghosts of her stolen innocence at the hands of her father.

Mason forms one side of that polarity in her life that draws her near healing and happiness while her abusive past drags her back into the skin of a vulnerable young girl, alone, afraid and infected with hopelessness. Locked in a desperate struggle, Grace refuses to open herself up to any emotions beyond the tendrils of her past that uncontrollably manipulate her life.

Survivors of child abuse are veterans of shattered trust and vandalized emotional blueprints. Brie Larson is stunning in her ability to reflect the ‘hot and cold’ nature of an abuse survivor living with the fear of the vulnerable child trapped deep inside them. It is only through a leap of faith that any abuse survivor can journey to the undiscovered country, as Shakespeare so eloquently described it, and face the fear that holds them prisoner and embrace happiness as a friend and not a visitor.

Grace’s life takes a turn when a new resident “Jayden,” beautifully played by Kaitlyn Dever, arrives at Short Term 12. In Jayden, Grace finds the catharsis she has so desperately needed in her life as she instantly recognizes the physical and sexual abuse Jayden conceals.

Grace finds herself taken back to the point in her life before she surrendered to chaos. She sees a chance to save the young girl inside her who tasted happiness before it was stripped away by her father’s abuse.

Short Term 12 becomes a place where Grace avoids her past by taking on the problems of others and she uses it to maintain an emotional distance that forms the pocket of safety she has created.

Jayden liberates the strong and independent woman that lays hidden inside Grace and allows her to become whole again by conquering her fear and rescuing herself by rescuing Jayden.

According to a report by the University of Chicago, as of 2011, nearly 60,000 children in foster care in the U.S. resided in institutions or group homes rather than traditional foster homes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau reports that in the United States, 400,540 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system. 115,000 of these children are eligible for adoption, but nearly 40% of these children will wait over three years in foster care before being adopted. It also reports states spent a mere 1.2-1.3% of available federal funds on parent recruitment and training services even though 22% of children in foster care had adoption as their goal.

The National Council on Adoption reports children wait an average of three years in foster care before being adopted. Approximately 55% of those children have had three or more placements before adoption.

An earlier study found that 33% of children had changed elementary schools five or more times, losing relationships and falling behind educationally.

According to the National Runaway Switchboard, on any given night there are close to 1.3 million homeless youth living in abandoned buildings on the streets or with strangers or friends. Homeless youth are at a greater risk for sexual exploitation, physical abuse, substance abuse, mental health disabilities, and death. Roughly 50,000 unaccompanied youth die each year due to illness, assault, or suicide.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that in 1999, approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 were reported missing. One in seven young people between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away, and seventy-five percent of runaways are female. One in 8 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2012 were likely sex trafficking victims.

Nationally, one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of child sexual abuse. There are over forty-two million survivors of child sexual abuse in the world today. According to a Centers for Disease Control study, the lifetime costs for the victims of child sexual abuse in one year is $124 billion.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports there are currently 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and typically 100,000 of those are unaccounted for. Research has also shown that each victim of child sexual abuse has to tell an average of seven adults before they are believed, and those who make it to the seventh adult are few in number.

Many children never make it to group homes; they become lost in a system overwhelmed and underfunded. Those who do make it to a group home face an uphill battle to escape the scars of an abusive childhood and accept that there is a life without pain.

Programs like the one at the University of Chicago that counsels teenage boys is bringing hope with a 44% drop in arrests for those involved. Group homes like the one Destin Daniel Cretton brilliantly portrays in Short Term 12 may not be perfect, but they are the only alternative some children have.

For more information on Short Term 12 and to view the trailer and find show times, go to the official website found here:


Jerome Elam

Jerome Elam is President and CEO of Trafficking in America Task Force. Raised in a broken home by an alcoholic parent, he is a survivor of child abuse/domestic violence, child sex trafficking, and child pornography. Brought up in the South, Jerome enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen. The decision to serve was made, in part, as an effort to escape the tragic circumstances he was trapped in. Through the experience of serving his country, Jerome found a new beginning and embarked upon a journey that showed him the world. This opened his eyes to the strength of the human spirit. After his completion of eight years in the United States Marine Corps, Mr. Elam attended the University of Florida, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. He went on to spend several years working in the Biotechnology sector. Motivated by the painful memories of his past, Jerome found his inner strength and began to speak out about his abuse. Through this journey, he found the healing force of God's unconditional love and discovered the joy of starting his own family. Today, Mr. Elam is a fierce Advocate for all children deprived of their voice. He is a public speaker, a staff writer, and known columnist for Communities Digital News. Recently featured as one of New York's New Abolitionists, he remains dedicated to the protection and empowerment of trafficked people. Staying true to values he learned in the Marine Corps continues to provide a safe harbor for all, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, or immigration status. When asked to describe his life experiences Mr. Elam stated, "I have struggled against many things in my life and somehow I found a way to survive. Writing is my passion and it keeps me in touch with the wealth everyone holds deep inside their hearts and minds. I share my experiences in the hope that those suffering in silence will find the courage to speak out and share their voices. I have been blessed to have God reveal His purpose to me in saving innocent children from predators." Jerome has received the Award for Courage presented by the National Council of Jewish Women for his work in the advocacy arena and has been appointed a Special Advisor to the Attorney General of Utah.