Reader, beware: Jennifer Toth's Orphans of the Living
a happy book. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more depressing subject than the current state of foster care in the United States. Nevertheless, in an age plagued by drastic governmental cut-backs on social programs--a time in which women and children are by far the most numerous victims of poverty--the fate of foster children is an important, if painful, subject. Toth's report from the frontlines of what is known as "substitute care" is not encouraging; as she follows the lives of five young people as they move through the system--from Damien, a rape victim at age 8 who becomes a sexual predator by age 13, to Bryan, who struggles to benefit from one of the country's best foster programs--Toth's subjects are as heartbreaking as their success is improbable. Toth has wisely put a human face on the child welfare system's carnage.
Make no mistake, Jennifer Toth is angry. She has faith in every child's ability to be rehabilitated, no matter how damaged, but blames the current foster care system for inflicting still more hurt on its hapless charges. Her book is strongest in chronicling the outrageous breakdowns in a system meant to help, not hurt. So relentless is the misery outlined in Orphans of the Living that by the book's end one wishes Toth had given the reader some crumbs of hope by proposing concrete ways in which the system might be improved.
From Publishers 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 expose of a system that hurts those it is charged to help.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.