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DCF Documentary, Truth to Transformation, to Screen at Garden State Film Festival

Documentary Short Follows the Stories of Three People Affected by the Child Welfare System as They Work with the Department to Co-Design the Future of Child Welfare in NJ


ASBURY PARK, N.J. – Over the last six years, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families has been actively working to change the narrative of child welfare in the state, to promote a vision of a family-serving system that helps all individuals to be safe, healthy, and connected. Next month, the public will see a big part of the reason for that vision represented on the big screen, as the documentary short film, Truth to Transformation, will premiere at the 22nd Annual Garden State Film Festival in Asbury Park.

Truth to Transformation recognizes that the only way we can advance as a child welfare system – to reconcile our intentions with outcomes for children and families, to acknowledge that family separation causes trauma, and to elevate the expertise of people who have been through the system – is to face the uncomfortable truths of historic child welfare practices, as it pertains to generational trauma, racial inequity, and family separations,” said NJ DCF Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer. “I’m so grateful to our three co-designers, Tamia, Dashaan, and Kayann, for being vulnerable and sharing their stories, and most importantly, for working with us to create a better way forward for families in New Jersey.”

Truth to Transformation documents the stories of three individuals – Tamia Govan, Dashaan Jennings, and Kayann Foster – who have lived experience through New Jersey’s child welfare system and are using that experience to inform their efforts as co-designers for the Powerful Families, Powerful Communities NJ (PFPC-NJ) initiative, a public-private partnership that DCF is leading to reshape child welfare in New Jersey. Through PFPC-NJ, 30 lived experience co-designers and representatives from the state’s child welfare system are seeking to co-create the conditions by which families can thrive without involvement in child protective services, with the goal of eliminating the need for a traditional foster care model in favor of supporting families to heal and stay together and relying on kinship placements when removal is necessary for child safety.

“The healing that the co-designers talk about in this film – in so many ways, it mirrors the healing of the child welfare system as a whole,” said Benita Miller, former Executive Director for PFPC-NJ. “As a system and as a field, if we’re serious about achieving positive outcomes for families on our caseloads, we need to reconcile our relationship with families and communities, to meet them on their terms, to hear their needs, and to overcome the negative stigma attached to involvement with child welfare. In partnership and through shared leadership with individuals like Tamia, Dashaan and Kayann, we can, and we are, inspiring a change in the hearts and minds of the families and individuals we seek to serve through DCF.”

Initially, the idea to document the work of PFPC-NJ was to use it as a training tool for DCF staff, to promote the department’s transformation to the 6,600 staff members that work on the front lines of child welfare in New Jersey, as well as to share it with partners in the child welfare space to build public awareness around the PFPC-NJ initiative. Through a partnership with Prevent Child Abuse NJ (PCANJ), a documentarian, Cheryl Miller Houser, was hired to bring to life the story of DCF’s efforts to pivot from a child welfare system to a child and family wellbeing system. The film features Tamia’s, Dashaan’s, and Kayann’s moving personal stories of growing up involved with the child welfare system, and their participation in re-imagining the system. Cheryl brings their stories to life through moments with the co-designers and their families, along with scenes with Commissioner Beyer and Benita Miller. National child welfare thought leaders Dr. David Sanders, Executive Vice President at Casey Family Programs and Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer founder and CEO at Alia Innovations also provide insights and framing for the unfolding stories.

Once filming was underway, it quickly became clear that a 10-minute training video was not going to be sufficient to tell this story, and it expanded into the film it is today. Upon viewing the final film, DCF leaders decided to make the film available to an external audience to inspire change and bold leadership on a broader scale. Beyond screenings at film festivals, DCF will also be coordinating with external partners in New Jersey and nationally to host community screenings and discussions about the film, as well as the need for transformation across multiple family-serving systems.

“It was an honor to capture the transformation of the child welfare system in New Jersey through Tamia, Dashaan and Kayann’s moving and inspiring stories,” said Cheryl Miller Houser, the film’s director, writer, and producer. “Their experiences capture the need for this transformation and the positive path forward. I was also very inspired by Commissioner Beyer's visionary leadership and deep care that’s driving this overhaul, and which enabled all of us to create such an honest yet uplifting film.”

While Truth to Transformation has lessons that could be applied to child welfare jurisdictions around the world, at its heart, the film is a New Jersey-centric story of hope and resilience, and the opportunity to screen the film at the annual Garden State Film Festival was “the perfect launching point for this powerful film,” according to Commissioner Beyer. Begun in 2002, the Garden State Film Festival is New Jersey’s premier independent film festival, honoring New Jersey’s legacy as the birthplace of American cinema. Each year, filmmakers from around the world travel to Asbury Park and Cranford to show their films to an eager audience.

“It is our honor and privilege to be able to tell this not-to-be-missed story to our audience. It made me so proud to be from New Jersey,” said Diane Raver, founder of the Garden State Film Festival.

Truth to Transformation has a runtime of 39 minutes and 51 seconds. It features, in order of appearance: Tamia Govan, Dashaan Jennings, Kayann Foster, Christine Norbut Beyer, Benita Miller, Amelia Franck Meyer and David Sanders. The film will be shown as part of the Garden State Film Festival on Saturday, March 23, 2024, at 12:00 PM at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Tickets are available for purchase at, and you can watch the film trailer at

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