thAttending a recent holiday party, I met a young therapist who confessed she had a fear of heights, a fear of crossing highway overpasses, a fear of crossing bridges. She also taught counseling, but because of a fear of being attacked, a guard dog accompanies her to ensure protection. In essence, she attempts to heal herself by healing others. And while I ponder the premise of such a world, this whole tale reminded me of Short Term 12.

The film Short Term 12 is about Grace (Brie Larson), a damaged caretaker caring for damaged children. While her own traumatic childhood experiences make Grace such an amazingly empathetic staff member, the experiences of those in her care are also triggering. The emotional traumas of adolescents bleed into her own; causing her otherwise perfect relationship with her boyfriend is to unravel under the weight of her own dysfunction.

In one scene, Grace explains to a new worker the kids “shelf-life” has passed and thus they remain at the home, waiting in a world where time appears to stand still, yet one in which everything continually moves. Each of the kids submit to the love of caretakers who aren’t much older themselves. In essence, kids are taking care of kids.

These kids are fractured representations of our own human condition, beaten, battered and consistently disappointed by the flaky world of adults. There’s a hug distance between the so-called “normal home” with love and wanted children and a short-term care facility designed to provide a place to live — but little else. These kids are nearing eighteen years old and remain ill-equipped to navigate life’s changing moments.

While we never see the abuse, we are witness to consequence. The movie is blunt, honest and filled with harsh truths. No sugarcoating. Everything digs deep. This is a film about the riskiness involved in both caring for another human being and having someone else care for you. Every moment is witness against the conservative naivity that every child can be equally cared and equally loved.

In truth, the government’s social systems are a quagmire, but instead of critiquing the system, Short Term 12 creates a small world where love, law, and brokenness operate freely.

Maybe all need such a world, where love and acceptance remain free to operate.