12/06/2013 05:55 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Maia Mitchell's Story From The 'Let Love Define Family' Series

Let Love Define Family

Huffington Post Gay Voices and RaiseAChild.US are collaborating in an 10-part “Let Love Define Family” series for November’s National Adoption Month. Each series installment will introduce you to another aspect of fostering and adoption. Together we will meet foster youth, hear from culturally competent foster and adoption agency leaders, chat with cast members from the ABC Family television series “The Fosters,” and celebrate LGBT parents and the successful and healthy families they create across the United States. -- Rich Valenza, RaiseAChild.US

Maia Mitchell, the talented young actress who plays the role of Callie on the ABC Family drama series “The Fosters,” has already captured the hearts of many viewers with her multi-faceted portrayal of a scarred yet still hopeful foster youth in the show’s first season. Callie and her younger brother are the latest children to join the multiracial two-mom family, which already has biological and fost-adopted children. Maia plays her American role so seamlessly that when her warm Australian accent wafted through the phone line, it caught me by surprise.

In my own home, my two fost-adopted children, partner and I are glued to the couch when “The Fosters” is on. It is obvious how much it means to our children to see their own realities reflected in the show. For Jared and me, the show is therapeutic to gain an inside access to the parenting challenges of another gay couple. From the fan feedback and Maia’s own account, ours is not the only family, and my children are not the only foster or former foster youth who have felt empowered by the show, which will return with new episodes on Monday, January 13. I was gratified by Maia’s willingness to speak with RaiseAChild.US about her role on “The Fosters” and how much she has learned through her work about the experiences of children in the foster care system.

Maia, what is your favorite part of “The Fosters” show?
It’s hard to pick a favorite part because it is honestly comprised of so many different scenes and messages that are being explored so I see the show as the whole package. It’s hard to isolate one thing. But for me, personally, it is the fact that we are raising awareness of what foster kids go through.

I have a family member who was in the foster system briefly and so I’ve kind of grown up knowing about it myself. So I initially responded to that aspect of it. That’s what got me really excited and what keeps me really excited. We've met a bunch of foster kids. They’ve come through the set and it’s just really amazing to see or hear about their stories and the way that our show is affecting them. So I think that for me is personally my favorite part of it.

My next question you’ve kind of covered already. What assumptions or ideas did you have about foster care or foster kids before you got involved with the show The Fosters. You mentioned you had a family member in the foster system.
Yeah. She was. She went briefly through the foster care system in New Zealand. I think it’s a different system to out here. I really wasn’t aware of the way in which these kids are kind of bounced from one home to the next and you certainly see that through Callie’s story and the effect it has on her and Jude, her younger brother.

What really shocked me is how many foster kids there are. I had no idea or concept of how many kids there are in the foster system, and how many of them, on a day-to-day basis, are dealing with abusive parents as well. That’s kind of what really got me. Because my family member was lucky they found one home and that was the only home they went to. I had no concept of how many different temporary situations these kids go through.

Maia, you do such an incredible job creating a likeable, complex, and compelling character. How did you prepare for the role of Callie?
I did a bit of research. I’m a young actor so I’m still kind of figuring out my process. So a lot of the things I do, I'm not conscious of a lot of the time. I’ve never been to acting classes or anything like that. Everything I do is quite instinctual. I really do just try to kind of put myself in someone’s shoes and then completely empathize. Then, at the time, I believe that I am that person. So, you know, I think a lot of it is about empathy, research, and knowing the facts to back that up.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about Callie, her thoughts, feelings, and motivations?
I'm constantly learning new things about Callie. I’ve never been involved in a series that has gone more than one season. So every time I get a new script, I'm learning something new about the character because Callie is learning new things about herself. She’s a girl that’s been very imbalanced and really hasn’t had a strong foundation so she’s constantly discovering herself, particularly in the new episodes. You really see her go on a character journey and really kind of get to the root of her issues. She’s still kind of unsettled for me. I'm figuring it out with her and obviously with the writers, we have a lot of conversations.

Every time I get a new script, I'm like what is going on? Then you kind of have to decode it and really spend a lot of time figuring it out. I think the main thing I've figured out is a lot of kids that go through the foster system or are in and out of juvie, can, understandably, develop a crutch. So Callie on the surface doesn’t do drugs. She doesn’t drink alcohol. She doesn’t have a sex addiction. She has none of that on the surface. Her addiction is to run. You see that on the finale. She feels like she has no control over her life so the way she deals with complex situations is with self-sabotage and her instinct is to run. It kind of takes control over her own life, even if it has negative consequences. A lot of kids do that. And that’s something I'm only just discovering about her.

What is the biggest asset that Callie brings to the family in The Fosters?
She has so much integrity. Callie is such a strong person. The fact that she’s dealt with so much in her life has made her so incredibly strong. Another aspect is her ability to put herself second. She’s completely thinking about Jude. Her whole life has really been about looking after Jude. So she really is someone who’s kind of alone.

She is really kind of an intimate, affectionate, and loving person. That’s at her core and I think that’s what the Fosters really kind of get from her. You know, they see it initially. Lena is so intuitive that she can see it in Callie from the first time they meet. She can see that about Callie. I think that’s what kind of what the whole family falls in love with and what enables her to fall in love with them.

What you say about Callie’s relationship with her younger brother Jude moves me. I have adopted two children and the younger looks up to the older and the older to the younger. They have a survival pact that siblings in stable homes have no need to develop. What do you hear from your fans about your role?
You know, we have such a wide demographic so it completely differs from person to person. We just went to a LGBT conference. That for me was amazing because they were young so they really loved the teen aspect and the drama, which is certainly very, very strong in the show. They really reacted to that and they were also really touched by seeing two mums on the screen. So it really does differ from person to person. Some people really respond to adoption and the foster aspect. Some people really can relate to different characters or different relationships. We have a huge following about Brandon and Callie being together. That story is particularly strong in the younger fan girl demographic. It’s really quite vast what people are responding to.

Have any foster youth said anything to you in particular about your role as a foster child?
Yeah. We had a group of foster kids come through and visit the set. We all sat down and had lunch with them. It was really great—particularly for me, Cierra, and Jake who play adopted children. So that was huge for me and I think the writers really responded to their story as well. In the first season you get a more narrow experience of adoption and foster care, but in the next few episodes you are exposed to a lot of different characters and a lot of new characters have different experiences of foster care and of going through the system. I think that’s what those foster kids are really wanting is different aspects of the system being shown and their own stories being told. I think we’ve done that in the new episodes and I’m really excited about that.

At the end of last season there was a cliffhanger involving Callie. With the premiere of the Winter Season, is there anything you can share with us for the readers of the Huffington Post Gay Voices about what we might expect?
I'm not sure how much I can give away! You see Callie and Wyatt have just been going on a road trip. You see their relationship grow and how that affects Brandon, and how Callie’s absence affects the whole family, particularly Jude who, you know, is Callie’s everything. You see how Jude reacts to her leaving. The family is obviously devastated and trying to get her back, so I guess we’ll see what happens.

A lot of different things revealed. Callie does learn a lot about herself and Callie’s father comes into the picture. So she has to kind of confront some things with her father that she hasn’t really let herself face, which is pretty huge for her and sends her on a little bit of a spiral. So it’s, yeah, pretty interesting!

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Absolutely. It’s such a great thing that RaiseAChild.US is doing, and I'm glad to be part of it. Have a g’day!

Rich Valenza is the founder and CEO of RaiseAChild.US, a nonprofit organization that believes all children deserve a safe, loving and permanent home. We educate and encourage the LGBT community to build families through fostering and adoption to answer the needs of the 400,000 children in our nation's foster care system. RaiseAChild.US works with foster and adoption agencies that have received training in LGBT cultural competence through the Human Right’s Campaign Foundation’s “All Children – All Families” initiative [link: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/all-children-all-families-about-the-initiative] and received its Seal of Recognition. RaiseAChild is leading a five-city tour of special events for prospective parents for National Adoption Month. We are capping successful events in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Kansas City with upcoming events in New York City tonight (December 3) and San Francisco (December 5). To RSVP, visit www.raiseachild.us or email info@raiseachild.us.

Maia Mitchell
Maia Mitchell