Orphans of the Living: Stories of America's Children in Foster Care

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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 ...
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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The substitute, or foster, child-care system does more harm than good, the author was told by a number of caseworkers and social workers she interviewed for this report. And according to Toth (The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City), a "code of silence" keeps most workers in the system from discussing their cases. According to Toth, 40% of the half-million children in the foster-care system eventually will wind up on welfare rolls or in prison because of the lack of loving adults in their lives. Toth spent two years researching systems in North Carolina, Chicago and Los Angeles responsible for providing parenting for children whose parents cannot, or will not, care for them. In this eloquent and harrowing study, she focuses on five children who grew up in substitute care, describing the original dysfunctional families the children came from as well as the ways that foster care made things worse for them. Angel was sexually abused by, and eventually married and had children (now in foster care) with her 69-year-old foster father. The inappropriate institutions in which Bryan was placed led to juvenile detention and incarceration. Although Jamie has become a self-sufficient college student, she hasn't overcome her mother's desertion. Toth has written an excellent expos of a system that hurts those it is charged to help. (May)
Library Journal
Like John Hubner and Jill Wolfson in Somebody Else's Children (LJ 11/15/96), journalist Toth (The Mole People, LJ 9/15/93) is critical of the "welfare" system that results in troubled children from troubled families being abandoned to foster care. She focuses in depth on the lives of five youngsters in foster family and institutional settings, where lack of nurturing, counseling, and therapeutic support is the norm. Toth gleaned these disturbing stories from two years of interviewing social workers, administrators, parents, and the children themselves, finding that the child who breaks out to have some success in life does so despite, rather than because of, the foster care system. These are powerful narratives; Toth's concern for these virtual orphans, ill served by a construct ostensibly in place to help them, is palpable. Recommended for all who care about the treatment and future of some of our most disadvantaged children.Suzanne W. Wood, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred
Kirkus Reviews
Remarkable documentary reports of five tortured individuals who suffered most or all of their lives in America's foster-care system.

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 stories—being 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 problems—raw, sad, always frustrating, but sometimes with unexpectedly rewarding resolutions. Toth tells it like it is.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684800974
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 4/1/1997
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.07 (d)

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