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
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 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.