God Bless the Child (film)

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God Bless the Child
Genre Drama
Written by Dennis Nemec
Directed by Larry Elikann
Starring Mare Winningham
Grace Johnston
L. Scott Caldwell
Obba Babatundé
Dorian Harewood
Music by David Shire
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s) English
Executive producer(s) Bruce J. Sallan
Producer(s) Andras Hamori
Denis Héroux
Dennis Nemec (co-producer)
Cinematography Laszlo George
Editor(s) Peter V. White
Running time 93 min.
Production company(s) Alliance Entertainment
IndieProd Company Productions
Phoenix Entertainment Group
Distributor ABC
Original network ABC
Original release March 21, 1988

God Bless the Child is a 1988 film, directed by Lary Elikann. It depicts the struggle of homelessness and the perpetual cycle of poverty and how it affects people, and tells the story of the sacrifices of a single mother, Theresa Johnson (played by Mare Winningham), in hope of a better life for her daughter, Hillary Johnson (played by Grace Johnston).


Theresa Johnson is a single mother, who was abandoned by her unemployed husband some time after her daughter, Hillary, was born. The two live in a cramped apartment in the inner-city, within walking distance to Hillary's school and Theresa's workplace. The occupants of the apartment complex Theresa and her daughter live in are all notified of their eviction due to the city tearing down the apartments. Theresa has nowhere to go. Theresa clocks out of work early to look for a place for her and her daughter to live, but is fired the next day for leaving early. The two go from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, trying to find a place to stay. Often they sleep on the streets. At one shelter Theresa meets outreach worker Calvin Reed (Dorian Harewood), who finds another place for Theresa to stay, while she receives welfare aid. The house is filthy and infested with rats. Theresa and Hillary settle into their new home, and the life of their neighboring family, the Watkins, is explored.

The Watkins are a poor African-American family who live in a house not much different from Theresa and Hillary. The father of the family (Obba Babatundé) abandoned the house long ago "because I am worth more to them gone than there" and doesn't pay child-support. He is deeply hurt by this failure. The family receives welfare but can't afford anything other than necessities, and goes hungry during the "fourth week," or the end of the month when most families have run out of food stamps. The son, Richard Watkins (Mos Def), hopes to break the cycle of poverty that has plagued their family, by being the first person in their family to graduate from high school.

The story returns to Theresa, who has just been evicted from her house by her confrontational landlord, after reporting the state of her house and the rat infestation to the Department of Health. Theresa and Hillary stay in the shelters once again, then Hillary contracts lead-poisoning from the poor state of the shelters and lack of sanitation. At the local hospital, Theresa is told by Hillary's doctor that if she contracts lead-poisoning again, it can cause severe health and development problems. Since Theresa and Hillary have been forced to travel between shelters the cause of Hillary's lead-poisoning can't be traced. Because of a lack of a steady home, Theresa cannot guarantee Hillary's safety.

Theresa consults Mr. Reed and concludes that the only way Hillary can live a healthy, normal life, free from poverty, is by giving her up. The only way this can happen immediately is if Hillary is abandoned. Theresa makes the decision to take Hillary to the park and leaves her for Mr. Reed to pick up. Before leaving her, she gives her a heart necklace and tells her that every time she looks at it she should remember that she loves her. When she leaves, Mr. Reed and another social worker take Hillary away, and the story ends with Theresa alone in the park, crying, as Hillary can still be heard crying for her mother.

Before the credits start, the statement "32 million people live in poverty in the United States, today. 13 million of them are children." is shown.