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ORPHANS OF THE LIVING: Stories of America's Children in Foster Care Hardcover – May 8, 1997


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1ST edition (May 8, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684800977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684800974
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,829,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Reader, beware: Jennifer Toth's Orphans of the Living is not 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.

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Customer Reviews

It is a gritty, real, and very compelling book!
Hempist
Ms. Toth did an excellent job of revealing the horrors that accompany the foster care system and how that system effects the children it supports.
Rob B.
I think it will give anyone who reads it an understanding of a different kind of success.
Nikki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Brad Simkins on April 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a social worker, youth counselor, foster parent and former DCFS foster care caseworker I was deeply touched with the honesty and integrity that Jennifer brings to her work. Rarely has an author been able to so accurately put the reader in the shoes of these wounded kids. While some may be turned off at the bleak hopelessness that many of these kids feel, if we are going to help and heal the youth of today's foster care system, we must first be willing to honestly address the reality of their world. Jennifer does this in a highly professional yet deeply loving way. I HIGHLY recommend this to all foster parents, foster care workers and youth counselors. But mostly, I recommend this to parents of at-risk and troubled youth. It will enlighten all into how the world looks through the eyes of these kids.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rob B. on August 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
Once I was getting on the case of one of my students, who is in foster care, for doing poorly in my class. He just keep saying, "You don't understand, Mr.____. You can't understand." Thanks to Ms. Toth I think I now understand or at least have a better understanding as to why he was doing poorly in my class. Ms. Toth did an excellent job of revealing the horrors that accompany the foster care system and how that system effects the children it supports. I do have a couple criticisms of this book. I can't help thinking that a few of the children chosen for this book are extreme examples (after all one does end up on Jerry Springer). And I think Ms. Toth unfairly demonizes public foster care. Though I am sure public foster care is far from ideal, I suspect that most people who work in that sytem do the best that they can with the limited resources they have available. Those criticisms aside, this book definitely is an eye opener which takes you into a world that few of us know or can even imagine. This is a world that many of our children have to face--alone.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a disturbing book, and anyone who cares will be deeply affected by it. Jennifer Toth is a gifted authour writing about a subject most seem to want to sweep under the rug. Until the difficult aspects of foster care are discussed so openly, changes will not take place. Under the hardships are children who desperately need help, which the current antiquated and bureaucratic system is not always able to provide. This book chronicles the hopes, dreams, successes and failures of some, but are reflective of many in the system.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Annaliese von Sieb on June 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
The life stories of the children profiled in this book are fascinating, and their experiences in the system are eye-openers (to me, at least). I was frustrated with the writing, however. The author sometimes rapidly skips back and forth to examine events at different times, causing the sequence of the stories to be confusing and some facts to seem inconsistent. Also, the author depicts herself in some of the children's stories but not others, so that as a reader I found myself wondering where she had gotten all this information. Overall, it is a good book that probably could have been a great book had it been better edited.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Unfortunately today, society is no longer surprised by the thought of child neglect or abuse. Such stories are found in the local and national news daily. However, Jennifer 's Orphans of the Living, demands that the issues of child neglect and foster care must not be merely labeled as 3old news.2 The author immerses the reader into the minds of four young people who have grown up within the realm of foster care. Their graphic and heart-piecing anecdotes, clearly relay Toth1s belief that substitute child care does not usually lead the child to happiness or normalcy. Through the stories of these kids, she instead depicts how the foster care system often concentrates more on reputation and politics than the well-being of the children.
Toth provides not a more lucid image of the orphans' psychology, but also on juvenile criminality and violence. Her studies support that abused kids are reduced to thinking that violence will award them with the love and attention of their parents. This book will definitely cause you to view juvenile criminal offenders with new eyes.
Orphan1s of the Living will indeed devour you with its gross and often unbearable rawness. However, as Troth has dutifully acknowledged, we owe it to these kids to hear their stories.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are few criminal enterprises more cloaked in secrecy than "child welfare" agencies and how the government raises orphans and other kids left to fend for themselves in foster care. Impressively, despite the best efforts of bureaucrats in several states, Jennifer Toth manages to tell the true stories of five unforgettable children in California, Chicago and North Carolina who try to survive the incredible obstacles placed in their way by the government agencies that are supposed to help them. Toth does a magnificent job in putting a face on foster care kids. They'll make you laugh and they'll make you cry, but how they are treated by social workers and the states will just make you angry. Highly recommended
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By greg cohen on March 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Jennifer Toth describes vibrantly the lives of five extraordinary children who were thrown away by their families and stuck in the nation's mess of a foster-care system. What these kids have to put up with is unreal -- crazy foster parents, judges and inept social workers keen on covering their butts. Toth does a great job of bringing these kids to life, from the day they were born until they reach adulthood. But she also does an important service in exposing the ridiculous obstacles that foster care puts in their way.
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