Orphans of the Living: Stories of America's Children in Foster Careby Jennifer Toth
In the first book of its kind, Toth presents the stories of five kids caught in a system in crisis, and chronicles the complexities of a culture that both liberates and hobbles its dependents. In addition to speaking to social workers, judges, officers, counselors, and psychologists, as well as to the remnants of shattered families who can't or won't raise their own… See more details below
In the first book of its kind, Toth presents the stories of five kids caught in a system in crisis, and chronicles the complexities of a culture that both liberates and hobbles its dependents. In addition to speaking to social workers, judges, officers, counselors, and psychologists, as well as to the remnants of shattered families who can't or won't raise their own children, Toth goes directly to the kids - capturing their voices and lives with striking clarity and poignancy. These children were thrust into an overburdened and antiquated machine designed to care for Dickensian orphans, not today's "throwaways," who are abused and neglected, often by substitute parents no more prepared to care for a child than were the biological parents. Following the children, Toth travels to foster care homes, emergency shelters, children's homes, and detention centers. She shares their despair and their triumphs - the midnight phone calls from jails, hospitals, and strip joints; the celebrations of straight-A report cards, graduations, and Congressional honors - as the children demonstrate their humor, hope, and resilience in trying to overcome their society's failure.
Toth's first book, The Mole People (1993), described her descent into the tunnels beneath Manhattan, in search of the homeless, disaffected figures inhabiting that eerie netherworld. As in that earlier work, she brings to this book the same courage, perserverence, and ability to draw from people their private thoughts. Included are the sagas of teenagers and young adults abandoned in fact or in spirit by their parents, who early on entered the "system," meaning the social-services child- protective system. Each of the children caromed from caseworker to caseworker, from foster home to group home to juvenile detention center, from relatives to friends to the streets. Sometimes the relatives did more damage than the group homes, sometimes the reverse, but the damage was always compounded by rootlessness and rigidity and by the absence (or betrayal) of hope. Toth chose her subjects (Damien and Sebastian, who meet and clash in a group home in North Carolina; Jamie, also from North Carolina; Angel, from Los Angeles; and Bryan, from Chicago) both because their cases seemed representative and because they agreed to talk to her (making them, perhaps, somewhat less representative). She is able to maintain a humane objectivity in documenting their storiesbeing empathetic without either entirely excusing or blaming the caseworkers, the children (who have burgled, raped, and maimed, abused drugs, engaged in prostitution, and tortured animals), or even their parents, always the likeliest target. An introductory chapter sets up the social stats: increasing numbers of children in care, causes and solutions as they are best understood, mixed messages, and missed diagnoses.
There is no formula here for solving the tragic problems; there are only the problemsraw, sad, always frustrating, but sometimes with unexpectedly rewarding resolutions. Toth tells it like it is.
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.42(w) x 9.51(h) x 1.07(d)
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