Another Place at the Table

( 11 )

Overview

The startling and ultimately uplifting narrative of one woman's thirteen-year experience as a foster parent.

For more than a decade, Kathy Harrison has sheltered a shifting cast of troubled youngsters-the offspring of prostitutes and addicts; the sons and daughters of abusers; and teenage parents who aren't equipped for parenthood. All this, in addition to raising her three biological sons and two adopted daughters. What would motivate someone ...

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Overview

The startling and ultimately uplifting narrative of one woman's thirteen-year experience as a foster parent.

For more than a decade, Kathy Harrison has sheltered a shifting cast of troubled youngsters-the offspring of prostitutes and addicts; the sons and daughters of abusers; and teenage parents who aren't equipped for parenthood. All this, in addition to raising her three biological sons and two adopted daughters. What would motivate someone to give herself over to constant, largely uncompensated chaos? For Harrison, the answer is easy.

Another Place at the Table is the story of life at our social services' front lines, centered on three children who, when they come together in Harrison's home, nearly destroy it. It is the frank first-person story of a woman whose compassionate best intentions for a child are sometimes all that stand between violence and redemption.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's 1988, and Harrison, a happily married mother of three, takes a job with Head Start, working with at-risk four-year-olds. Her heart goes out to the foster kids; before long, she and her husband take state training and adopt two sisters. Five children make a big family, but Harrison finds it tough to turn her back on needy children. She and her husband start accepting emergency care "hot-line" foster children, too; soon, Harrison quits her day job and becomes a full-time-overtime, really-foster parent. In addition to a stay-at-home mom's usual duties, Harrison is caring for children with serious emotional baggage and often complex medical problems. There are lawyers, therapists and social service people to meet with, plus the scheduling of visits to birth mothers, an emotional roller coaster for all parties. Birth mothers, she finds, are often "harder to hate than you might expect," and when an especially difficult child comes along, it's almost impossible to accept that even foster parents have their limitations. And how do you "give enough" to each child so they get a healthy sense of family, "without loving them too much to let them go in the end?" With over half a million American children in foster care today, Harrison's personal but vitally important account should be read by public policy makers and by anyone with a spare room in their home. Agent, Maureen Walters. (Apr. 14) Forecast: Tarcher will release a reading guide for this book, and a blurb from memoirist Augusten Burroughs and Harrison's visibility as a public speaker could draw audiences. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A report from the trenches about what it’s like to be a foster parent. Thirteen years ago, with three boys of their own at home, Kathy and Bruce Harrison decided to adopt two little girls Kathy encountered while working in a Head Start program. Part of the adoption process entailed foster-parenting training and certification; soon, Social Services began calling, begging the Harrisons to take in foster children for short-term placements. Some hundred children later, Kathy writes about her family’s journey. Miguel, a ten-month-old infant, needed an overnight placement after his teenage parents nearly beat him to death. One-year-old Shamika had been severely burned by her mother. The Harrisons also have their share of long-term foster kids, whose stories are even bleaker. Six-year-old Danny had been beaten and sexually abused his entire young life. As a result, he was dangerous, unpredictable, and resisted toilet training. Worst of all, he was a budding pedophile and could never be left alone with younger children; for this reason he was eventually removed from the Harrisons’ household and subsequent placements. Sara, another six-year-old, had the same grim past, and although she seemed more salvageable than Danny, that hope proved illusory; by the end, Sara is in a secure psychiatric facility, perhaps never to be released. There are some success stories, however. A sweet girl named Lucy who enjoyed birding went on to be adopted by a loving family after a stint with the Harrisons, who themselves adopted a third daughter, Karen, despite her host of medical problems. Kathy and Bruce lavished attention on these damaged and rejected children; they clothed, fed, and ferried the kids to sportingevents, therapy, meetings with birth parents, and court, all for $15.00 per day. The Harrisons aren’t perfect—the author recounts her relief when Danny is finally removed from their care—but they certainly provide a desperately needed service. Not easy reading, but an informative primer for those contemplating foster parenting. Agent: Maureen Walters/Curtis Brown
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585422821
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/24/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 178,120
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathy Harrison has been a foster parent to nearly one hundred children. In 1996, she and her husband were named Massachusetts Foster Parents of the Year, and in 2002, they received the prestigious Goldie Foster Award.

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Read an Excerpt

ANOTHER PLACE AT THE TABLE
by Kathy Harrison

 

INTRODUCTION

For more than a decade, Kathy Harrison has sheltered a shifting cast of troubled youngsters—the offspring of prostitutes and addicts; the sons and daughters of abusers; and teenage parents who can't handle parenthood. What would motivate someone to give herself over to constant, largely uncompensated chaos? How does she manage her extraordinary blended family? Why would anyone voluntarily take on her job?

Harrison is no saint, but an ordinary woman doing heroic work. In Another Place at the Table, she describes her life at our social services' front lines—centered around three children who, when they come together in her home, nearly destroy it. Danny, age eight, is borderline mentally retarded and a budding pedophile (a frequent result of sexual abuse in boys). No other family will take him in. Tough, magnetic Sara, age six, is dangerously promiscuous (a typical manifestation of abuse in girls). Karen, six months, shares Danny's legal advocate, who must represent the interests of both. All three living under the same roof will lead to an inevitable explosion—but for each, Harrison's care offers the greatest hope of a reinvented childhood.

For readers of The Lost Children of Wilder, Expecting Adam, and Somebody Else's Kids, this is the first-person story of a woman whose compassionate best intentions for a child are sometimes all that stand between violence and redemption.

 

ABOUT KATHY HARRISON

Kathy Harrison has been a foster parent to nearly one hundred children. In 1996, she and her husband were named Massachusetts Foster Parents of the Year, and in 2002, they received the prestigious Goldie Foster Award.

Praise

"Shocking, brutal, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive. This is the riveting and profoundly moving story of a hero, disguised as an ordinary woman. And like every hero, it's the children she is out to save." —Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors

"With humor, eloquence, and not a shred of sanctimony, Kathy Harrison invites us into her busy home and into the lives of her ever-changing crew of troubled children, some of whom are hers to watch over for a few days, some for years. There's not one she won't worry about forever." —Suzanne Berne, author of A Crime in the Neighborhood and A Perfect Arrangement

"In this compassionate and affecting memoir, Harrison charts her role as a foster parent with a story that is both harrowing and redemptive. Her tone is affectionate, yet tough-minded as she lays out the paradoxes that characterize our modern-day foster care system. A heroic story and one that is sure to win your heart." —Frederick Reiken, author of The Lost Legends of New Jersey

 

A CONVERSATION WITH KATHY HARRISON

When you were little and people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, did you ever imagine it would be "foster mom"?

No. I didn't even want children. I was going to be rich and famous and live in New York City. I figured I would be a writer.

Why a writer?

I've always written, from the time I was little. I wrote stories, fables, children's stuff. I kept journals. When I started doing foster care, I used journals with the children.

How do you use journals with the children?

When kids come to me and they've been in twenty-seven different homes, they don't remember much of their past. They think they were hatched at age nine or something. What I often do is buy them a little binder notebook and say, "Tell me the first thing you remember. Who's the first person you remember living with?" If that person is not the birth mother, I will talk to the child's caseworker and see if I can learn the child's exact history. Then I will tell the child—say her name is Anna—"Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Anna. When she was born, she had a mother, whose name was Elizabeth. But Elizabeth couldn't take care of her well enough, so Anna went to live with her aunt Sally." And so on. When I'm done with the story, Anna has a picture of her past so she can write it down in her journal herself. It's a timeline. I also use journals with teenagers. Imagine being fifteen and walking into some stranger's house, especially if you don't happen to speak English. I say to teenagers, "Tell me your story." Then, if they do, I say, "That's so interesting—this is like the best work of fiction, but it's real. Why don't you write it down?" The alternative is that they'll put on headphones and veg out for hours. Another thing I might say to kids is, "Wow, this is how long your life has been so far, but this is how long you have left." I want to give them a sense of wide-open futures and the opportunity to make good choices from this point forward.

What about you? Do you still keep a journal?

Yes. Writing helps me process things. For example, when a child first comes to me, I often write down the child's story and from that compile a list of strengths and needs. In the course of writing, I get a clearer understanding of children and their families. It puts things in a context that I can understand. I have a sense of, "Oh, now I get it. I see how this happened and who these people are in the world." It also helps me cope with some of the horror of a particular story. It's cheaper and more accessible than a therapist. I'm not good at keeping a specific journal, though. I'll write something in one notebook, and then in another—fragments here and there. I'll write in margins of books, on napkins, backs of envelopes. I'm always saying, "Does anyone have a paper bag? I need to write something down." My husband bought me one of those handheld tape recorders. But it's not the same. For me, writing has to be longhand. It has something to do with how I sit to write, how the words go on the paper. Writing isn't just the product, it's also the process. There's a physical side to it.

Did you write this book longhand, or on a computer?

The first five drafts were handwritten. The initial part of the writing process for me always has to be handwritten. After those drafts, though, I typed the text into a computer. I still don't know how to cut and paste. I have to ask the kids.

When did you go from saying, "I want to be a writer in New York City," to, "I want to be a foster mom"?

I never said to myself, "I want to be a foster mom." That was never the plan. My husband and I got married and had our first son. We moved to a rural environment—a town with seven hundred people, a farm in the middle of nowhere. Then we had another couple of kids. I liked having kids. I liked being a mother—baking bread, giving baths, the physical stuff. When it was time for me to think about gainful employment, I took some classes and taught preschool. I loved being in the classroom, having children around. Then I met my first little girl who needed a home. She's starting college next week. There was never an epiphany moment when I said, "This is what I want to do." I slid into it. During that slide, I had moments when I said to myself, "Holy smoke! This is really interesting!"

What is it about being a foster parent that you find interesting?

I'm not a cocktail party girl. But when we do go to cocktail parties, the other guests are talking about their investments or their computers, and are probably thinking about me, "She's fifty years old and she's still home?" And what I'm thinking is, "You have no idea how interesting my life is!" We all like to glimpse into other people's lives. I think I'm nosy by nature. It's interesting for me to see how other families work and survive. Some families live lives about which you think: "How do they stand the trauma? I couldn't stand the trauma." But some of these families actually thrive on it. Kids themselves are amazingly perceptive and courageous and smart. They slay me when they tell me some of their stories-fifteen moves, not knowing where they're going to be tomorrow. And yet they get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. How interesting is that? How lucky am I? I have the opportunity to hold their hands. I think I've become an adrenaline junkie as far as what I do. This is real drama, complete with mysteries and heroes and villains and plot twists. I'm energized by the unexpected.

Why did you write this book?

I'm a writer. A Boston Globe reporter wanted to write a book about what I do. But my husband said to me, "You write it. This is the book you want to write." Foster parents are among the most misunderstood people in the world. There seems to be a mental picture of foster parents—we're either selfless saints, or we're leeches of society who take in children and spend government money on Cadillacs while we feed the kids macaroni and cheese, and lock them in the closet. The truth is, I'm not a saint. I can get impatient. I don't always make the right choices. Sometimes I just want to go into my bedroom and lock the door. But I'm also not cruel and awful. In this book, I wanted to offer a more authentic and realistic public image of people who choose to do foster care. I also wanted people to read the book and say, "I can do this." And I wanted to tell my kids' stories. There's this image of kids in foster care, that they're all hideous delinquents. And instead, so many of them are remarkable. They have sweet streaks. Even the worst kids can have sweet streaks. I had a horrible child—difficult as can be, retarded, very aggressive and violent, sneaky, sometimes really mean. A hard kid. I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" But when she came into the house, she looked around and said, "My God, this is like living in a party!" Just like that, as soon as her attitude changed, my attitude changed. There are moments that are quite sweet. Underneath it all, the kids are just kids. How do you keep your equilibrium with the other people in these kids' lives—the birth parents, the caseworkers, the social workers, the attorneys? When you meet birth parents who were or are awful to the kids, are you tempted to lecture or yell at them? I'm the sort of person who wants everyone to do what I want, yesterday. I want everyone to do what my kids want. I'm that way with attorneys and social workers and caseworkers. But not with birth parents.

Why not?

These birth parents were six years old themselves once upon a time, and nobody helped them. If someone had, none of this would be happening now. I can have long conversations in my head in which I tell a birth parent what to do. But judgment doesn't help. What I see in the birth parents is an enormous amount of pain and anger and fear. Still, there are kinds of abuse that would blow your mind. The sexual abuse of children is incomprehensible to me, and after all these years, I'm still floored when mothers choose abusive mates over the welfare of their children. I can wrap my brain around the idea of a parent's losing it and shaking a baby or hitting a child harder than intended, but I struggle to come up with any empathy in cases of planned, systematic abuse or lack of remorse. There is neglect that comes from poverty or a parent's limitations, but I've seen parents who smoke while trying to justify not feeding their babies.

What was your childhood like? Do your own experiences as a child help you now with your foster children?

Yes, there's no question. As for my childhood—there was a fair amount of good stuff with a fair amount of awful stuff. The family structure was there. I have two brothers and a sister, who are very successful now—good lives, solid marriages, nice kids. We're very tight. We all talk to at least one of the others every day. When we were kids, we always had one another. We also always had somebody in the background—some adult—who was willing to prop us up. There was always somebody to tell us, "You are so bright." My mother felt that we were smart and capable. I realize that I might be that person for my kids.

What role does your husband play in your kids' lives?

Bruce feels very strongly that he's often the only normal guy that my little girls and my adolescent girls ever see. He's so good with them. He says, "I'm the only book they're going to read on what a guy should be like." Last night, he was washing the dishes after working a nine-hour day. I had started to do them, but he said, "No, I want you to take a swim. I can do this in ten minutes."

Isn't that a good message for the kids?

Bruce feels it's important for the kids to see a man who can be patient and kind and nurturing. Even if he and I get annoyed with the kids, we rarely lose our tempers. When we find ourselves not working well with a child, we usually ask to have the child moved rather than risk not meeting the child's needs. We are both pretty good at realizing that children use behaviors to express their feelings, so we don't take things personally. If the kids are getting to us, Bruce and I will give ourselves a time-out. I figure that God invented The Lion King to give parents an hour of peace and quiet. It can be hard enough balancing marriage with conventional parenthood.

What is it like balancing marriage with foster parenthood?

That's another message we give to our kids—that Bruce and I need to have our time together. We guard that time. We're not opposed to telling the kids that they need to find something to do at certain times. Bruce and I find time alone. We're hedonistic about it. We have coffee together on the deck every morning. And every night, we have coffee, tea, or a drink and sit on the deck. Most nights, if the weather is good, we're in the pool at ten, eleven o'clock. We call it our "sacred spot." The kids know they're not allowed there unless their hair's on fire. This gives Bruce and me enough energy to face the next challenge. He and I have a standing Thursday-night date. We don't do anything spectacular. Sometimes we'll get a bottle of wine and rent a movie or play cards. We might just watch television or look at the stars. What we do isn't important, but the time alone together is. We don't even answer the phone. It's wonderful.

If you had a weekend to yourself—no kids, no husband, no obligations—what would you do?

I would get homesick. My home is my favorite place to be. I'm on the go so much with the kids that I cherish an uninterrupted hour sitting on my deck, watching the birds. If I had a weekend of uninterrupted time, I would use it to enjoy the things I already cherish—heaven for me is a cup of tea and enjoying a murder mystery in front of the fire. I love to cook, and I'm an avid reader.

How many foster children do you have in your house right now?

I have four, and I'm getting two new ones this afternoon. I usually have six. Two girls went home yesterday—two adolescent girls, very different from each other. One of them we had for a year and a half. The other one, we had for a week. The first one we sent home with a whole new set of skills. She promises that she'll keep her nose clean, that she's going to do the right thing. She's an A student, beautiful, smart. We spent the last three months talking about choices, how her life depends on making good ones. I told her, "If you make good choices, your life can be whatever you choose it to be." It was different with the other girl, the one I had for only a week. I had the same conversation with her, but delayed and condensed. I told her, "Your life may seem like it's over, but it doesn't have to be this way." She said, "All I want is for my life to be normal. I want a normal life where I get up, someone makes me breakfast, someone's there, and there's no violence. That's what I want my dad to give me." Her whole life to this point has been nothing but violence. I told her, "I don't think that's going to happen. But there's a choice you can make here. You can say, 'I'm going to stay away from violent men. I'm going to make my best efforts in school and always do my homework.'" If kids did their homework, a lot of them wouldn't have so many problems. I'm very strict about this. Life is not fun around my house if you don't do your homework!

What is the hardest part about being a foster mom?

I usually know exactly what a child needs after a while—better than the child's therapist or social worker. But it's very frustrating for me when I can't obtain those things. It's difficult to have to say, time and time again, "This is what this kid needs, so why can't she have it? Really, what would it cost?"

Is funding for social services getting better or worse?

Things are getting worse. Caseworker numbers are way down. It used to be that you could always get a caseworker, but now you can't. Since 9/11, funding for everything has been cut. There used to be a program called Parenting Partners. When I had a child in care who was ready to go home, I would be available to the child's mother as a support person. I could do things that social workers rarely have time to do. I could work on parenting skills and household management and provide some respite child-care. In effect, I could be a parent figure to the parent. At ten dollars an hour, I was a bargain. Unfortunately, the program was defunded, and that safety net disappeared.

Is lack of funding the only problem at the institutional level? Are poor planning or bad decision making also problems?

Yes. For example, we know that adolescents don't do well in foster homes. There's an intimacy involved that's hard for them. What they really need are small, structured group homes—four to six kids, rotating house parents, one set of mom and dad. That way, the parents don't get frustrated, and the kids don't get the boot, as often happens in foster homes. Adolescents are tough—they run away, they take drugs, they're sexually active, and so on. They need to be someplace where they don't get the boot whenever their behavior becomes challenging. But very few of these homes exist. We have some shelters around here, but they don't meet a tenth of the need. There's often a three-month wait to get in, and three months is too long. While teens wait for a group home slot to open up, they might be bouncing from home to home for weeks, and not be able to attend school or therapy or visit with family. And parents with the skills to take on a long-term commitment to teens are few and far between. Talk about saints.

Would group homes be more expensive than foster care?

Group homes are more expensive, but a good one can change a teen's life. By the time a child reaches fourteen or fifteen, the behaviors that were troublesome when the child was younger often become both dangerous and criminal. I'm talking about chronic running away, promiscuity, drug abuse, aggressiveness, problems with authority. That makes it tricky when you draw the line between programs that are punitive and those that are therapeutic. I think it becomes harder for people at some programs to feel good about spending money on children who are labeled "delinquent" rather than "troubled."

Are there other aspects of the social services system that frustrate you?

There can be long waits for foster kids to get into schools because of trouble transferring academic and health records, and the reluctance of some school districts (not mine!) to provide the extensive special education services some kids need. I haven't been able to find a local orthodontist who accepts state health insurance, so a lot of my kids, unfortunately, don't get braces. I never give my children broken toys or puzzles with missing pieces, but that's what tends to be donated. People sometimes view foster kids as a lost cause, but they're not. Most of them have a lot of potential. I'm always amazed at their brains and the creativity and the self-sufficiency of these kids. And at their moments of kindness, when they don't have to be kind. I remember taking one little girl to the dentist. She had never had her teeth taken care of, and they were a mess. She underwent a very painful procedure, and when she got back to the waiting room, she was still howling. All of a sudden, she was surrounded by a sea of girls (I had other children with me). They were all offering her hugs and trinkets, barrettes and stickers, anything they thought she might like. Each girl had little to call her own, but each was willing to share with someone who had even less.

Do you ever try to persuade people you know to become foster parents?

I have done TV, radio, and newspaper interviews about foster parenting, and some recruiting at fairs and other local events. I've even passed out fliers on street corners. But when it comes to individuals I know, unless I see some signs that they would be into it, I don't say anything. It's not a life for everyone, after all. Because of the way the system is structured, financially, if you don't take at least four kids, you can't afford to do it. The pay is terrible—it ranges from $14.92 to $17.36 a day, depending on age. Most foster parents feel that taking at least four kids at a time is the only way they can make it work financially. I would love to see things set up so that people can take just one kid, because parents get burned out taking more kids. It's a battle—you become numb to what you see around you. It's easy to lose track of what you're supposed to do. If you have just one kid, on the other hand, you can focus. I have often found that I can have only one, sometimes two, hard kids at once. If I have a runner, I don't want another runner. If I have someone who's sexually acting out, I say thank you to the Department of Social Services, but I don't need another.

Do you plan to write another book?

I'm working on one now, about the challenges of raising a child with serious mental health problems. It won't be sad or depressing, though. It's about how my family structures life in terms of patience, calmness, serenity. I have a pretty serene house.

The book is about your daughter Karen?

Yes. Karen is eight now. She functions, for the most part, really well. Not always. But we're creating a solid life.

How do you build your lives in terms of patience, calmness, and serenity?

Good nutrition. Lack of violence. I don't allow television shows that are at all violent. Also, I sit with the kids and block out commercials with the mute button. We listen to classical music before bed and we read a lot. We avoid the big hurrahs like amusement parks. Bruce and I encourage the kids to watch birds and otherwise appreciate nature. We are blessed to live in a rural community, and we have a three-acre backyard. I also talk about meditation with the little ones. I do guided imagery with them—"Take a deep breath, and now let's go for a walk in our minds."

Has your life changed since you wrote this book?

It's too early for me to say. But the other day, Bruce and I were talking about our future—where were we going to be in a year, in five years? We wondered what it would be like to be able to make any choices we wanted, to not have tuition and household bills as our concerns. Bruce and I both said that we would unquestionably continue being foster parents, but that we might choose one really challenging kid and do all the things that would be important for that kid—without having to depend on others to pay for it.

So you didn't talk about maybe just retiring?

Retirement doesn't even enter my head. I will always want a kid or two. I can't picture how I would structure my day if I didn't have to plan meals and baths. I love being a mother. I love kneading bread. I love giving baths. I gave one of my girls a bath last night. She was truly filthy—she'd been in a sandbox, a Popsicle had dripped all over her. It was a pleasure to see the dirt come off, to see her pretty face emerge. She said, "Aren't my teeth so sparkly?" I can't picture my life without children around.

Some people might consider you a saint. How do you feel about that?

I'm not a saint. I do exactly what I want every day. That makes me pretty self-indulgent. When I was working outside the home, I hated every minute away from my family. The lovely thing about being a foster parent is that I get a piece of everything I like best. I have the stimulation of working with professionals who care passionately about children. I get to indulge my fetish for organization. I love the challenge of tracking down records and catching up on medical and dental exams. I'm not above getting dramatic with some unsuspecting records clerk to make her part with information I need, like the dates of a child's past immunizations in order to enroll the child in school. My background is education, and I enjoy working on education plans and helping kids do well in school. I adore homemaking, cooking, and cleaning—I even like doing laundry. Some women might crave red convertibles, but what I really pine for is a state-of-the-art, front-loading washing machine. As far as I'm concerned, I have the best life in the world. I'm grateful every day.


6 Ways You Can Help Foster Parents and Children in Your Community

  1. Donate your children's used toys, clothes, and books to foster homes in your area. Make sure the items are clean and in good condition.
     
  2. If you own a business with goods or services that would be useful to foster families (ice-skating rink, restaurant, bookstore), offer free coupons or gift certificates. If you know others who own their own businesses, encourage them to do so. Compile books of coupons and gift certificates to offer to foster families.
     
  3. Become a respite provider. With only thirty hours of training, you can take in foster kids for several days or weeks a year so that foster parents can go on vacation (or simply take a break).
     
  4. Offer to be a babysitter for foster children. (You will be required to undergo a criminal background check.)
     
  5. Call your local YMCA and other community recreation centers and encourage them to provide free memberships to foster kids.
     
  6. Call your local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and ask if they might donate uniforms to, and waive fees for, foster kids who want to join.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Before you read this book, did you think much about foster parents and foster children and the foster care system in general? Were your impressions negative, positive, or neutral?
     
  2. Harrison writes about the negative stereotypes of foster parents and foster children. Do you find yourself thinking in terms of those stereotypes? How do you think they got started in our society? What keeps them alive?
     
  3. Did any one child in Harrison's book touch you more than others? What was it about his/her story that affected you?
     
  4. What parts of Harrison's book surprised or disturbed you?
     
  5. When you were a child, did you have a non-parent adult in your life who helped you through a tough time, propped you up, mentored you, loved and encouraged you, or otherwise had a positive impact? Would your life be different now if you hadn't known this person?
     
  6. As an adult, have you ever helped a child (not your own) in the above ways? Do you feel that you made a difference in that child's life?
     
  7. There are half a million children in the foster care system in this country. In Harrison's view, it's an imperfect, financially depleted, and overburdened system. The children are not receiving the care they need, and the children's birth families aren't receiving the help they require. What do you think is the solution? Should our government spend more money on social services? Or are tax dollars better spent in other areas?
     
  8. Harrison talks about having "long conversations in her head" telling birth mothers what to do. Do you ever have those conversations in your head with parents you know? As you read Harrison's book, did you ever find yourself judging her parenting skills?
     
  9. When is it appropriate to keep our opinions to ourselves about other people's parenting, and when is it appropriate to speak up? Serious abuse aside, what about when we see a parent screaming at a child, spanking a child, or acting out (with sexual behavior or drinking) in front of a child? Where do you draw the line?
     
  10. Do you ever imagine yourself becoming a foster parent? What would be the positive aspects of it for you? What would be the negative aspects?
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Reading Group Guide


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

Q> Before you read this book, did you think much about foster parents and foster children and the foster care system in general? Were your impressions negative, positive, or neutral?
Q> Harrison writes about the negative stereotypes of foster parents and foster children. Do you find yourself thinking in terms of those stereotypes? How do you think they got started in our society? What keeps them alive?
Q> Did any one child in Harrison's book touch you more than others? What was it about his/her story that affected you?
Q> What parts of Harrison's book surprised or disturbed you?
Q> When you were a child, did you have a non-parent adult in your life who helped you through a tough time, propped you up, mentored you, loved and encouraged you, or otherwise had a positive impact? Would your life be different now if you hadn't known this person?
Q> As an adult, have you ever helped a child (not your own) in the above ways? Do you feel that you made a difference in that child's life? Q> There are half a million children in the foster care system in this country. In Harrison's view, it's an imperfect, financially depleted, and overburdened system. The children are not receiving the care they need, and the children's birth families aren't receiving the help they require. What do you think is the solution? Should our government spend more money on social services? Or are tax dollars better spent in other areas? Q> Harrison talks about having "long conversations in her head" telling birth mothers what to do. Do you ever have those conversations in your head with parents you know? As you read Harrison's book, did you ever find yourself judging her parenting skills? Q> When is it appropriate to keep our opinions to ourselves about other people's parenting, and when is it appropriate to speak up? Serious abuse aside, what about when we see a parent screaming at a child, spanking a child, or acting out (with sexual behavior or drinking) in front of a child? Where do you draw the line? Q> Do you ever imagine yourself becoming a foster parent? What would be the positive aspects of it for you? What would be the negative aspects?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 29, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    I began this book as someone who never imagined that I would wan

    I began this book as someone who never imagined that I would want to be a foster parent, and finished it with the inspiration to pursue it as soon as possible. Harrison is not a superhero, as I previously imagined foster parents to be; she is an ordinary person who has given an extraordinary piece of herself to those members of our society who need it most. Her story, and that of the children she loves, deserves to be read. This book is about Kathy Harrison's real life as a foster mother and the story about a couple of the children that came into her home. She talks about her true emotions and feelings as she tries to hold these "shattered" children together with, as she puts it, just love and "band aids."   I cried as she wrote about letting Lucy go to an adoptive home. She loved Lucy but not in the same way as the children she adopted. She wanted to keep her but also wanted Lucy to have that unconditional, total love she deserved. The pain of letting Lucy go tore open those feelings and what we went through with two little boys I had for three years. It will bring you to tears and will make you angry. It won't make you laugh and it doesn't have a happy ending. But it will make you think about the foster care system, and maybe it will encourage you to make a difference.     

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A fairly realistic view of what you may be getting into.

    I read this book hoping to learn more about what it was like to be a Foster Parent, and that is absolutely what I got. It is realistic, it does not paint a picture that is deliberately bleak, nor does it sugar coat things. Harrison lays out what it is like to be human, whilst helping children cope with what they have been/are going through.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2009

    Informative, eye opening, shocking

    they are doing something wonderful, loving and with all the best of heart intentions, that few of us would ever dream of doing, no doubt its a calling!!! but while reading this book, I kept feeling the urge to scream enough already! please dont say yes again, I felt my heart breaking for the unbonded tylers of the world who have lost their families, placed in a safer place but still are unable to get the special attention and care they need to bond and heal.
    after taking care of two toddlers with attatchment issues, I would expect any prospective foster parent to question the history of the child, in order to help them and would never consider this voyeurism.
    my heart broke for Dan. His time was running out fast for bonding.
    this book is very informative, and I would suggest it for anyone who is or might be involved with foster care in any way, it definately portrays the realities of everyones choices involved in the whole process, good or bad, and is an excellent tool, thoughtprovoking,
    I highly recommend reading when Love is not enough for anyone dealing with this type of child.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    I read this book shortly after my own children were put in foster care. At that point, I was very angry and could not begin to understand how an agency that would rip babies from the arms of loving parents could be allowed to even exist in a 'free' country. It was reassuring to me to know that there were good foster parents out there. It was also helpful to me to learn details of WHY the system exists, that there are children who are actually put in danger by their parents, who are truly neglected or abused. I'd done a report on child abuse in junior high, but that was a long time ago and I'd spent a couple years trying to defend my family against people who lectured me for being a bad mother because my home had safety hazards like pennies on the floor and nasty gunk under the fridge and I sometimes took my eyes off my children for long enough to use the toilet. Thus, I had expected that foster parents would all be GOOD parents, who wouldn't do things like get distracted and not notice a child flushing a washcloth down the toilet, or have multiple criseses (crisi?) occur too close together to have one finished before th e next one started. That seemed like something I'd do, and that would look horrible in a report if CPS stopped by at the wrong moment. I also expected that most of the biological parents of the children would be basically like me- normal, loving parents who got overwhelmed, stressed-out, and didn't have the economic and social resources to overcome their problems without attracting the attention of CPS. Oddly, the parts about the horrible abuse some of the children had suffered didn't seem real enough to be imagined, so the parts that hit me hardest were the little details, like a child not having a toothbrush, or a girl being fed nothing but peanut butter sandwiches because her mom was too busy partying to have time and money to make real meals. I'd recommend this book to other parents like myself who are dealing with CPS, as well as foster parents and anyone curious about the foster care system. Mostly, I'd recommend it to social workers who are overworked and maybe need a reminder of what they are supposed to be concerned about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2003

    An Amazing Read!

    As a prospective Foster-Adopt parent - I found this to be a very eye-opening read. I believe that all perspective Foster or Foster Adopt Parents should read this book. It gives you the day-to-day perspective you do not get from other books on the topic. I could not put it down and it really made me stop and think about what I was about to get myself into by adopting a special needs child. I hope she comes out with another book on this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2003

    Gentle opening of a little soul, leaving memories of happiness

    Kathy Harrison and her husband must be made of the most beautiful and toughest mettle...! The little Danny to whom they opened their home was so well described and their efforts to give him some love and an opportunity to remember good times despite his closed little soul reverberates.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2006

    This is a wonderful book!

    I've read this book twice. The first time was just before I began to do foster care and it scared me half to death, wondering what I was getting myself into. Then I read it again after I had been a foster mom for a year and I laughed all the way throught it. This is a wonderful book for anyone thinking of jumping into the trenches. Don't let it scare you, being a foster mom has been a very rewarding thing for me--I adopted my first 2 foster children!!!! She now has a sequel to this book called 'One Small Boat' and now I'm hoping she writes a third book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2003

    With no time...I still clould not put it down!

    We have 9,8,2 & 1 year old girls...The older three are our foster daughters, that we are planning on adopting...I have not read a book since they were placed with us...Even with the little time I know I have I could not put this book down...What an expertly written book...I am so glad I opened it up and started to read it...I too would buy a sequal!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2003

    A must read book if in foster care

    Wonderful book. I felt like I was reading about myself.Kathy seems to have the same feelings on a lot of the issues that I too have faced in foster care. Being from NZ, this book was also very revelent. Different country, but same issues.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2003

    Hard to put down!

    The worst part of this book was that it ended. I couldn't put this book down. She shared some of the same feelings I have about my own foster child. I hope she writes another one. I need a sequel.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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