The film was narrated by Henry Winkler, who also served as executive producer, and won an Academy Award for Best Feature-length Documentary in 1978, as well as the Director's Guild of America Award and the Humanitas Award for producer and director John Korty in 1979. A 50-minute version of the film shown on ABC in December, 1978, earned a 1979 Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Program and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Informational Program for Winkler, Korty, and producers Warren Lockhart and Dan McCann. A sequel, Steppin' Out: The DeBolts Grow Up, was made in 1980 with Kris Kristofferson as host and narrator. The DVD edition typically includes the 46-minute sequel as a featurette. The family was also the subject of a book, 19 Steps Up The Mountain: The Story of The DeBolt Family, by Joseph P. Blank.
During her first marriage Dorothy had five biological children with Ted Atwood and adopted two children from Korea (she relates in the film that many are surprised to learn that she didn't ascertain before the adoption whether the children were from North or South Korea). After her husband's death, she adopted two boys from Vietnam. Following Atwood's marriage to Bob DeBolt, who had one biological daughter from a previous marriage, the couple went on to adopt 10 more children from Korea, Vietnam, the United States, and Mexico — the last was adopted after the initial film was made and is not included in the "19 kids" of the title.
The film introduces the adopted children, shows many details of how they accomplish everyday tasks and household chores, portrays special family events, and includes interviews with some of the older children and with Bob's biological daughter. The DeBolts' web site notes that five members of the production crew lived with the family for 2 1/2 years while filming the movie.