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The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care
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The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  312 ratings  ·  50 reviews
IIn 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,107)
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Sep 29, 2007 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: social workers, lawyers, ACS critics, do-gooders with the best intentions
This is one of the most affecting books I've read in the past couple of years. It's written by a journalist who follows the course of a 1973 test case filed by the ACLU challenging the administration of foster care in New York City. Bernstein interweaves the ensuing decades of legal and agency maneuvering with the story of the Wilder for whom the lawsuit was named: a young girl who is not so much failed as she is brutalized by the foster care system. Burnstein does an excellent job of tying her ...more
Aug 02, 2012 Shana rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone involved with child welfare. And Republicans.
Recommended to Shana by: "Books We Like" shelf at the library
I'm a child welfare caseworker, so when I picked this book up off of the "Books We Like" shelf at the library and read the title, I thought "The struggle to CHANGE foster care? You mean, it used to be even worse????" Of course, when I actually read the book, I discovered that, wouldn't you know it, the child welfare system hasn't improved much in the past 40 years.

This is a really fascinating book that not only explores a landmark lawsuit in the New York City on behalf of foster children but pa
Richard Kramer
There are a dozen books I have been meaning to read for decades, and this is one of them. I recently sold my house where I've been living since 1990
and in the adrenaline surge that followed the sale I decided it was time to read some of those books that never made it to the top of the pile but also never made it into the trash (not that I still don't wince whenever I toss a book, no matter how bad.)

But this made it to the top, at last, and now that I've finished it has made it to the top of anot
This was one hell of a book to read. It is so well written - seamless transitions between discussion of the progress of the legal cases and the stories of the foster children's daily experience as the cases dragged on. The way the important dates in the case line up with critical changes in the lives of Shirley Wilder, and then Lamont Wilder, is an amazing illustration of how these abstract laws are affecting real humans throughout the long drawn-out court battles over them. At times it was phys ...more
very very slow read, but very very good. i've read 2 books while reading this one. i love this book and there are moments when i can't put it down but then there are many others moments where i find my mind wandering. it's a documentary almost... and it's loooooong. but i suggest reading it to anyone who has a heart for children, especially children in great need.
Blaine Morrow
Thoroughly researched account of the Wilder cas in New York, which was intended to reform the child welfare and foster care policies in that city. The book traces both the case and its namesake: Shirley Wilder, a victim of foster care abuse who had a son who also fell into the foster care carousel. The author has done a marvelous job of making statistics and anecdotes real by giving intimate portraits of each protagonist and paying close attention to the aftermath of court decisions, placements, ...more
Klaudyna Z.
This book was very disturbing to read at times. I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the things that happen in this world, especially to kids. I thought the book was well written but all of the stuff about the legal Wilder case was very dry and there was almost too much legalese to be able to understand it all. I skipped through some of those parts. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't more written about Shirley Wilder and what she went through her life. There was a br ...more
Frank Stein

In this book, one dedicated journalist traces the life of Shirley Wilder, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against New York City's foster-care system that has been going on now for almost 40 years. The story is heartbreaking and well-told, and should serve as a tale of caution for all those who seek to litigate America's problems away.

The book shifts back and forth between the hellish demimonde inhabited by Wilder and her son Lamont, and the world of public interest litigation inhabi
Before this book was recommended, I had never really thought about the foster care system much. I had read accounts here and there and knew enough to realize that the system needed a revamp and had much to be desired. In this book, Nina Bernstein wrote an incredibly detailed account of the Wilder case, which set out to revamp the foster care system that for some time had/has serious issues. She interweaves the history of the case with the story of Shirley Wilder, the young girl who the case is n ...more
The story of a landmark legal case in foster care, "The Lost Children of Wilder" is a grueling read, both in its subject matter and its content. The laborious and involved court case is not exactly explained with the greatest clarity and characters are sometimes indistinctly drawn. But the other side of this book is a stark contrast: Bernstein sensitively and honestly captures the real human figures caught up in the bloody mess of the foster system, never sugarcoating their (sometimes horrifying ...more
I was required to read this book for a Child Advocacy course and I was pleasantly surprised! The novel was very engaging from the start and I was so interested in the child policies and the centers that home children who are homeless. I would definitely recommend this to any student or any person who's interested in Child Advocacy however, I do think I would have read this book if I wasn't in my course.
Effective, relentless journalism. Nina Bernstein follows a 35-year struggle to change the New York City foster care system, along with the personal life of the lead plaintiff of a class action lawsuit: an abused 13-year-old girl named Shirley Wilder, and the son that she loses after giving birth while in foster care.

At times the legalese and the complex cast of characters in the NYC bureaucracy gets heavy, but when the narrative revisits Shirley and her son, the reader sees the human side of th
Gripping journalistic account of a 26-year class-action suit over New York's foster care system. The courts finally settled in favor of the plaintiffs, who had charged that the state's reliance on religious organizations (mainly Catholic and Jewish) to administer foster care programs had led to systematic discrimination against African American children (who were mostly Protestant). The case wasn't settled until 1999, five days after the lead plaintiff died alone in a hospice at the age of 39. T ...more
One of the most powerful and upsetting books I've ever read. An amazing feat of journalism, and a look into a world often ignored.
Finally finished this mammoth! Such a good read for understanding a lot of the broader issues with the Foster Care system but after starting this guy over winter break, I didn't finish until summer! (Largely because I was reading other things but...) Sad story but definitely has some funny parts. Can be dry but it's explaining a legal case that stretched out over two decades (and three generations) and the author definitely works hard to keep it interesting/relatable despite the complex nature o ...more
This book was so sad that it was a struggle to keep reading. Shirley and Lamont Wilder's suffering reminded me of Saphire's "The Kid", and I wondered if all foster-care stories are similar or if Saphire had read "The Lost children of Wilder". I was surprised to recognize 2 of the NYC agencies mentioned in the book, The Children's Village, where I volunteered, and The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, which did that horrible twin study that separated 13 twins/triplets from each other, and led to "Iden ...more
Written by a reporter who followed the story for years, this is a powerful account of the New York City foster care system. Although I enjoy reading nonfiction, I usually make my way through it rather slowly; not so with this one. It was hard to put down. Bernstein did an excellent job of weaving together history, law, and personal stories of the children, teenagers, parents, families, lawyers, judges, and social workers whose lives were touched in some way by the Wilder case. A gripping, moving ...more
Dec 17, 2010 Matthew rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: law
This book was the utterly depressing story of the legal battles to reform foster care in New York. Bernstein's journalistic style was pretty consistent minus her weak effort to mask her own misguided involvement in the events. She did a fairly good job of maintaining an objective view point. The main lesson I took away from this book is that if you are a religeous charity DON'T take money from the state. It's dancing with the devil and will lead to no good.
Fascinating but the legalities were hard for me to wade through.
Feb 25, 2014 Ann rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
Fascinating. The current foster care system may still have major issues but its come a long way.
Sheri Ertuncay
I wanted to read about experiences of kids in fostercare. This book follows one girl and her family but there is a lot of the legal side of this case. Although the legal side didn't interest me, I read on to follow the character and hear more of her experiences. I think this book will be a good eye opener so you can get a feel of the plight of these children and how their experiences along with poverty effect them as adults.
Interesting story but too many dry legal details.
Incredibly interesting story about foster care in New York City. It was a mix of the personal story of Shirley and Lamont Wilder, two kids in the system over the years, and the long legal struggles spearheaded by Marcia Lowry to try to help kids. The book made you realize just how complicated "fixing" this system is and how heartbreaking it is that it can't be easily fixed for those kids stuck in it.
Nov 08, 2012 dallas added it

In the early 1900's, the SPCC would sometimes claim that garlic was an aphrodisiac and that mothers who cooked it for their children were neglectful of their daughters morals.

Religious institutions controlled foster care. They kept kids in care when they could have been adopted and they discriminated against kids of color because they were catholic and Jewish orgs.

It took a little while to get into it, and there are quite a few dense legal things...but this book was really eye-opening. It is shocking that this has continued so long, and, not to spoil the ending...but not much has changed in foster care from the time of the events in this book till 2013. Really worth a read to stay informed.
Nina Bernstein chronicles the history of foster care and child placement in the U.S. and in New York. Interweaving the true story of a a young girl and her son and the devastating effects of a disastrous public policy which placed children on the basis of their race and religion, rather than what would be in their best interests.
Excellent from start to finish! The story of Shirley Wilder and her son Lamont, both foster children, is engrossing. While telling their story, the author also provides a comprehensive history of the flawed orphanage/foster care system as well as the legal battle waged by one lawyer to change it. Highly recommended.
Lisa-marie Vargas
As someone who currently works in the NYC Foster Care system, I found this book fascinating. It was slow at points, but overall was an excellent history lesson on the system that I currently work in. We aren't perfect, but if this book shows me anything it's that we've come a LONG way!
Tackling a sprawling legal case and the family at the center of it, this book shines a bright light on some particularly dark corners of recent child welfare history. However, because the story frequently shifts between the personal and procedural it sometimes loses its footing.
to say that the author did her homework is a major understatement - her research, let alone her synthesis of the multitude of voices and perspectives, are humbling. this book is heart-breaking, infuriating, and well it should be, given the story it chronicles.
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