In the Best Interest of the Children
|In the Best Interest of the Children|
|Directed by||Michael Ray Rhodes|
|Produced by||Paul Freeman|
|Written by||Peter Nelson|
|Starring||Sarah Jessica Parker,
|Distributed by||National Broadcasting Company (NBC)|
|Release date(s)||16 February 1992 (USA)|
|Running time||96 min|
In the Best Interest of the Children is a fact-based TV film starring Sarah Jessica Parker who plays a woman struggling with manic-depression while raising her five children. This leads to the children eventually being taken from her and put in foster care.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (November 2012)|
The film opens with Callie Cain (Parker) leading her kids in singing along to John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" as she moves back to her hometown of Estherville, Iowa with her 4 young daughters (plus another baby on the way) and boyfriend Ray (Hodges). Although Callie's brother John (Graham) and sister-in-law Wanda (Atkinson) attempt to help them, the abusive Ray (the father of youngest child Jason) has no interest in working, and Callie rebuffs Wanda's suggestion that she continue treatment for the manic depression she suffers from. As a result, the family soon finds themselves living in poverty, with oldest child Jessi (Randall) forced to play mother to her younger sisters (Julie, Susan, and Cindy) and brother. A short time later, Ray leaves them, and Callie continues on a downward spiral.
Sensing his sister has some serious problems, John notifies the authorities, who send social worker Donna Evans (Barnes) to the house. After initially attempting to avoid her, Callie agrees to undergo treatment for her disorder, on the condition that John and Wanda don't get custody of her children.
The Cain children are taken in by Patty and Harlan Pepper (Struthers and Johnston). Immediately loving the kids, Patty raises the possibility of her and Harlan becoming their adoptive parents. However, between the fact that the children are not only thriving in the Peppers' care, but also referring to them as "Mom" and "Dad", Patty soon becomes more determined to win custody, particularly after seeing the effects that the children suffer after their required visits with Callie at the hospital.
A difficult legal battle soon ensues and drags on over a period of two years, as Callie seems to be doing better and believes the Peppers somehow "brainwashed" the children against her, with John equally frustrated that he's been unable to see them. The court initially sides with Callie, declaring the children must be returned to her by the end of the year, but an incident on Halloween where Jessi and younger sister Julie (Campbell) attempt to purchase sleeping pills from a local drugstore to use in a possible suicide attempt, soon turns the tide. The story generates outrage, with the children telling reporters that they don't want to go back to Callie and would rather remain with their "real Mom and Dad", and a flood of angry mail castigating the legal system's failure to act in the children's best interest soon follows. As a result, Patty is informed that the decision to move the children has been postponed until next year, resulting in a merry Christmas for all of them.
Unfortunately, their happiness proves to be short-lived. Four months later, after much consideration, the presiding judge rules that the children be removed from Patty and Harlan's care. After a tearful farewell that generates more media attention, the children are placed in the care of the state, during which time they begin receiving therapy. During one of these sessions, Julie expresses anger towards her older sister for things not working out, despite Jessi's promise that they would, and tells her she's "just like Callie". Later, Jessi tearfully tells her therapist that she tried her hardest, but was overwhelmed by the adult role she attempted to fill. Meanwhile, all is not well for Harlan and Patty, whose marriage is deteriorating as a result of the grief caused by the children's removal.
In a subsequent therapy session, Callie joins Jessi and admits to her past poor judgments, but asks for another chance. However, Jessi angrily reminds Callie that she gave her 10 years worth of chances, only for her and her siblings to be shoved aside every time Callie brought another man home. Jessi also points out that while she was taking care of the other kids and her mother, no one took care of her, and she accuses Callie of never really loving her. Angered by this apparent rejection, Callie runs from the center and suddenly disappears, thus detouring the original plan of eventually returning the children to her. Nor is there an alternate workable plan, as the current foster placement is only short-term, Harlan and Patty have split, and the kids blame their Uncle John for having them removed.
After an argument with Wanda over the situation, John storms out of the house and climbs in his truck, which refuses to start. Angrily, he pounds the steering wheel, but Callie pops up in the backseat and tells him to stop. At this point, he attempts to convince Callie to go back to the hospital, but she refuses, and an argument breaks out. Pleading with his sister to go back, John tearfully promises to care for the children as if they were his own, and she finally agrees.
Callie explains the situation to her kids, who want to know why their Uncle John and Aunt Wanda never stepped in to help them before. At this point, Callie admits she refused to accept their help because of her illness, but assures the kids that the decision of where they will live is up to them. The younger children look to Jessi as to what they should do, but she snaps and tells them she doesn't know everything, and they should just take a vote. She then runs after her mother to wish her good luck, making an apparent peace with her, and Callie later bids goodbye to her children as they leave with John and Wanda, whom they have decided to live with. The film ends in the same manner as it opened, with the children singing a rendition of "Take Me Home, Country Roads", eventually joined by their aunt and uncle.
As a result of the public consciousness raised by the real-life Cain children's experience, the Iowa State Legislature subsequently enacted new laws regarding the rights of foster children. The children themselves were subsequently adopted by their aunt and uncle, and continued to visit their mother frequently, though she was still battling mental illness.
- Sarah Jessica Parker as Callie Cain
- Sally Struthers as Patty Pepper
- Lexi Randall as Jessica Cain
- Gary Graham as John Birney
- Susan Barnes as Donna Evans
- Jayne Atkinson as Wanda Birney
- John Dennis Johnston as Harlan Pepper
- Tom Hodges as Ray Jacobs
- Elizabeth Ashley as Carla Scott
- Jessica Campbell as Julie Cain
- Lacey Guyon as Susan Cain
- Amanda Laughlin as Cindy Cain (age 5)
- Molly Laughlin as Cindy Cain (age 3)
- Matthew and Mitchell Cook as Jason Cain (age 3)
- Chase and Corey Johnson as Jason Cain (age 2)
- Milo Popp as Cousin Mark Birney
- Jeremy Hopkins as Cousin Bobby Birney
- Sonny and Alex Stinnet as Baby Jason Cain
- Harry Lennix as Tim Coffey
- Jane Lynch as Gwen Hatcher