Book Review - Orphans of the Living
Stories of America's Children in Foster Care

By: Jennifer Toth

Disclaimer: This book review is my opinion of the book. If you have a different opinion of the book that is great. I know I have loved several movies and books that other reviewers have not liked and disliked movies and books that receive great reviews. I think we all have. If you would like to submit your own review, I may consider posting it. Thanks.

I am still trying to figure out what the point of the book is.  I am not sure if the author is trying to point out the flaws of the Foster Care System in the US, to point out the struggles that children in the Foster Care System face, or to simply document the lives of the 5 children and families she profiled in her book.

If she was trying to point out the flaws, she forgot one very important element: practical suggestions on how things can be done better.  If she was trying to point out the struggles that children in the Foster Care System face, I think she failed because from my experience with the system many of the cases she profiled would be considered extreme and not representative of the majority of cases.

If she was only trying to tell the story of these 5 kids, she didn't do such a bad job.

Application to residential childcare workers and those that are part of the system

The best use a residential childcare worker could make of this book is to get an idea how the children we work with can develop some of the beliefs that they do, and how those can hinder their ability to assimilate into the main stream society.  For example, how a child feels that being placed in foster care destroyed any chance at a future, while years of poverty, neglect and abuse is OK. 

The book does a pretty good job of documenting how being placed in the foster care system becomes generational and repeats itself with each new generation.

I think where the book fails greatly is in implying that the whole system is bad based upon those truly bad facilities and workers that can be found within the system.  I think it works to hard to highlight and focus the reader on the flaws of the system while although documenting the influence of the child's family, largely ignoring their influence. 

The author spends nearly 1/3 of the book chronicling the life of a girl that is born a crack baby, spends her early years abused and neglected by her mother and drug abusing boyfriends, never knowing her father, living with family members while her mother was in and out of jail and treatment programs.   A foster family that was hand picked by her grandmother after she became terminally ill,  because they were family friends, where the dad later sexually abused her when she was 14 and he was nearly 70, whom she bore 5 children and married all before her 18th birthday.  Yet the author writes, "She is a product of the foster care system, a child who through resilience, courage, and ingenuity 'escaped from it......."  At the end of her section she was still married to her foster dad, while living with another man, without so much as a GED, and all 5 of her children were living in the foster care system.  Where is the escape?

She occasionally highlights, though I don't think nearly enough,  the positive things that people within the system do to help the children they care for, like supporting and keeping a child in their program even when they should have been expelled.  Like going out of their way, and even on their own time and with their own resources helping a child in the foster care system.

A byproduct of the book, would be that it is presented in such a way that would favor residential care over the traditional foster family for caring for abused and neglected children. Just my opinion!

The reality is that the Foster Care System is made up of people.  As with all people there are good ones, bad ones, and indifferent ones, you don't really need this book to tell you that. 

The book is published by Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.  Copyright 1997.  It comes in soft cover and is 314 pages long.  I paid $13 plus shipping for my copy at Amazon.com.

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