“I’ll be OK.” “We’re not there yet.” “Almost Home!” These phrases were spoken by Natalia, a three-year-old girl, while she and her dad pretended that the big rock they were sitting on was a sailboat. These words perfectly symbolize the custody journey portrayed in the documentary, “Tough Love.”

“Tough Love” delves into the lives of three people (one couple and one single father) whose children are in foster care. The film follows them as they listen to judges and child welfare advocates tell them what needs to be done for them to regain custody of their children. They want to be their children’s forever family, not foster care or relatives.

Hannah and Philly were two of the three people followed in “Tough Love.” They are husband and wife, and she was expecting her third child. Her first two children were taken from Hannah, due to neglect, to live with their father’s mother. They were taken away after Hannah moved in with her mother after her children witnessed her ex-boyfriend pushing her through a glass window. Someone called Administration for Children Services (ACS) and stated that Hannah would leave her children for days at a time with her mother and nobody knew when she was going to return. Hannah was allowed to see her children on weekends.

Hannah and Philly live in a bedroom in Philly’s mom’s house. ACS had a meeting with the parents-to-be and said there would be a conference to determine if the baby could live with them in only one bedroom. In order to address this issue, Hannah and Philly worked with the Child Welfare Organization Project. These advocates suggested that the two look into moving into a shelter. If that happened, they would be have more space for the baby and would have a better chance of maintaining custody. So, Hannah and Philly went looking for shelters, but PATH (Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing) said they were not eligible for a shelter. Luckily ACS decided the baby could live in Philly’s mom’s house.

They were supervised for six months by ACS to make sure the home was OK for the baby. Within six months, the baby was released to them, Hannah got a job as a bartender, Philly continued work as a cart vendor, and they were approved for low-income, 2-bedroom housing. Hannah and Philly endured “tough love” so they would be able to give the kids a stable, loving environment. Now they have a two-bedroom place and Hannah continues to see her children on the weekends. Her ex-boyfriend was given custody of his two children, and they are no longer considered in the “foster care system.” Sometimes tough love is the only option in order to move onward and upward.

Patrick was the other person the documentary followed. Patrick lives in Washington as a single father of a three-year-old named Natalia. Patrick has a history of addiction to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. When his daughter was 2, Patrick was arrested for drug use. He called Child Protective Services (CPS) for his daughter, because when he was in jail, she was with her mom, who was using drugs. Natalia was placed with a foster family who was moving towards adopting her. Patrick got released from Jail and was able to see Natalia on weekend visits. He decided to attend Family Treatment Court, which is voluntary, to help him with the steps he had to take to get full custody of his daughter.

“Tough Love” depicted Patrick as a loving father. They had video clips of him making a home-cooked spaghetti dinner for him and Natalia, and sitting with her to eat. She wanted to draw pictures after dinner, and Patrick stopped doing dishes to spend time with her. He has a bedroom nicely decorated just for Natalia. They showed him brushing her hair and placing it in a ponytail on a couple occasions. His heart beats for his daughter. Unfortunately, he had to go through “tough love” before things got better. Patrick had a difficult time going to meetings for his sobriety. He had trouble taking responsibility for the poor choices he kept making. He would gamble away his rent money. At one point the judge stated that the plan for Patrick’s custody had changed, and the option of adoption was now primary for Natalia. When this option was heard, Patrick decided he needed to make a change. He completed Gamblers Anonymous, and he received 27 sobriety chips when he was only mandated to receive 14. Six months later, Patrick had full custody of Natalia, and no longer needed court supervision. Tough usually has a negative connotation, but in these stories, Tough is synonymous with love.