This is a story worth telling... but by someone else. Strangely, the fist author is Greg Mortenson, who is described throughout the book in the third...moreThis is a story worth telling... but by someone else. Strangely, the fist author is Greg Mortenson, who is described throughout the book in the third person. I assume it was the second author who atually wrote the book and tossed in metaphors such as "his mind scurried like a small furry animal trying to escape a trap." (Not sure I remember this verbatim, but the "small furry animal" part is verbatim.) I think this was done in a misguided attempt to make the book more lively and readable, like a novel. What Mortenson has accomplished is amazing, but he reminds me of Quoyle in _The Shipping News_, and it's just icky to read a memoir about a character like that.
One quote worth repeating, not because of its literary value (in fact, it leaves me with the bizarre--and unintended, I believe--image of injured people walking around with armfuls of bloody unattached legs), but because I agree with the sentiment: "How would his feelings about the conduct of the war change if everything he'd just seen, the boys who had lost their potato salesman father, the girls with the blowing-over blackboard, and all the wounded attempting to walk the streets of Kabul with the pieces of limbs the land mines and cluster-bombs had left them, were just numbers on a laptop screen?" (p. 293-294). This is important to remember for anyone who analyzes quantitative data about people.(less)
**spoiler alert** This book was a memoir that read like a novel. The book begins when Bridge was about 5 years old, and he uses his imagination libera...more**spoiler alert** This book was a memoir that read like a novel. The book begins when Bridge was about 5 years old, and he uses his imagination liberally to recreate dialogue that might have occurred. All the while, he tells the story from his own perspective as a child. It’s very well written, to the point that I find myself wanting to quote from it at length in this review.
I finished the book a couple months ago, and what I recall most about it was how it demonstrated the continued importance—and source of strength—that author’s mother was for him throughout his young life, even though he spent most of his years growing up in foster care and even though he was never reunited with his mother. I think it was Urie Bronfenbrenner who stated that the most important thing for a child is to have an adult who puts the child’s interests ahead of his or her own interests. It doesn’t seem to be irrationality, but rather a mature acceptance of his mother’s limitations that allowed Bridge to feel that his mother truly did her best for him. Most importantly, that belief sustained him throughout his time in foster care. He demonstrates this throughout the book, but for readers who may have missed the point, he spells it out in the conclusion: “In the rush of bureaucrats, social workers, lawyers and judges to determine the best interests of the child, the uncomfortable subject of love quickly becomes irrelevant. …some families cannot be saved and their children cannot be returned. Yet, even for them, their love for each other must be worth something. Of the infinite number of virtues by which we judge a mother’s value, if she possesses one, then even that single bit of love most be worth saving for her child’s sake and for hers. Love may not be enough to wake a child in the morning, dress him, and get him to school, then to feed him at night, bathe him, and put him to bed. Still, can any of us imagine a childhood without it? (p. 294-295)”
Additionally, Bridge gives credit to teachers. In addition to paying attention to him and challenging him, they fulfilled the roles adults are supposed to fill, provided a sense of safety—things his mother couldn’t do. He makes clear, though, that teachers couldn’t replace his mother as that most important caring person, as described by Bronfenbrenner. “There were limits to what Miss O’Malley could or any of the teachers that followed her could do. They could not change the family where the county had put me. They could not undo what had happened to [my mother:]. They could never make me miss her less. They did what they said they would do and they were who they said they would be. Delighting in things like American history, geometry, and English grammar, they arrived and taught, day after day. Adults doing what they were supposed to do, doing what was expected, had become rare in my young life. Yet with the bit of attention that my teachers had given me, they had done the extraordinary. They had shown me that if the entire world was not safe, at least a region of it might be. (p. 231).” The model foster child throughout his childhood (he was the only foster child that his foster parents “kept” until he left home for college; this was because he behaved so well), he also learned from teachers that he “could disappoint someone [by doing badly on a paper or answering a question poorly in class:] without losing her (p. 235).”
Although I don’t think Bridge was a “cutter,” he describes an incident that I think shows how, sometimes, psychological pain is so great that physical pain—or at least a visible physical injury—is a kind of relief. Bridge describes an incident in which he cut his foot on some rocks surrounding the swimming pool of the foster home where he lived for 8 or so years. “With one leg dangling over the water’s edge, the other across my lap, I examined the wound I had made. The thick skin of my foot was soft, white, and clean from the water and chlorine. I fingered the slice, spreading it to expose deep red flesh and tearing at its edges. As I shivered from the cold, my thoughts focused on my foot and the single source of pain, to the exclusion of every other. (p. 150-151).”
In one section of the book, Bridge describes a job he got through a program aimed at providing employment to foster youth. As a foster child, he received what might be described as sh*tty treatment, and guess what the system apparently thought he oould aspire to? So comical and metaphorical, this story, too, seems worthy of quoting at length: “For the next three weeks, I woke at half past four in the morning, left the house by five, then arrived at Reseda Park, ready to nudge the grass clean. With the slightest flick, I could dispose of anything from the confident crappings of a might German Shepherd to the timid droppings of a trembling Chihuahua. I watched all of them crap. Bag and poop-tray in hand, I could discern the guilt in a dog’s eyes as it self-consciously glanced to the side and shifted its weight to its hind legs. Within a matter of days, I had developed my own eyes for excrement. Under the summer sun, I could spot a solitary pooh that rested yards away. Of course, the bigger the dung, the bigger the dog—everyone knew that. Yet the most common, least remarkable piles could reveal darker secrets. Strings of grass hinted at intestinal ailments, bits of upholstery signaled loneliness, and an earring or a string of beads revealed revenge. But then there were the most intriguing craps, dug out from the bushes or shoveled up from under a tree—the ones that were too large to have ever come from under a dog’s tail. These turds were not specifically detailed in the job description, but as Superintendent Stansky always said, “When working for Los Angeles County, you’ve gotta be prepared for surprises’ (p. 215).” Could he possibly be comparing foster kids to a bunch of crapping dogs? But these dogs seem somehow gleefully independent, vengefully leaving their crap for the workers to clean up. At the same time—perhaps I’m gullible, but I really believe that the foster care job program set him up with a job scooping poop. Rest assured, he soon quits and gets a better paying and more pleasant job at a grocery store, until he leaves for college.(less)
**spoiler alert** I know of cases in which one parent chooses a partner who is abusing a son or daughter over the son/daughter (e.g., the parent toler...more**spoiler alert** I know of cases in which one parent chooses a partner who is abusing a son or daughter over the son/daughter (e.g., the parent tolerates the abuse and/or—when a child welfare agency places the child in foster care, the parent chooses to stay with the partner and lose the child). This novel is a demonstration of how such a seemingly incomprehensible situation might occur and how it might affect the child and family. Although the plot of Bastard out of Carolina occurs outside of the child welfare system, I’m including it in my list because it deals with child maltreatment and because the main character, Bone, ends up spending time in informal kinship care.
I would hope that times have changed since the setting of this book, which I think was the 1960s. For instance, in one scene, when Bone’s mother takes her to the hospital the first time for a broken collar bone, the doctor discovers other broken bones and injuries. The doctor confronts the mother angrily, asking who has been abusing the child. When Bone and her mother won’t respond, a nurse apologizes, saying, “He’s young and he’s not been here long (p. 114),” as the doctor leaves the room in disgust. (Apologies were in order for the doctor’s brusque bedside manner, but certainly not for drawing attention to the abuse, and the nurse was apologizing for the latter.) Bone is allowed to return home with her mother. Today, medical professionals would be mandated to report such abuse to child welfare agencies. States began implementing mandatory reporting laws in response to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, implemented in 1974 (e.g., see: http://pewfostercare.org/research/doc...). The child welfare system doesn’t always do a better job protecting vulnerable kids than their own families do, but Bone was certainly a child in need of protection.
The book addresses themes of anger, love, and beauty/ugliness.
The writing style is interesting; Bone is the narrator and tells the story in the first person. Unlike the narrative, the dialogue—including Bone’s—is written in a kind of southern dialect (e.g., “‘I an’t gonna tell nobody’”, p. 191). The discrepancy between the dialect used for narration and for dialogue was a bit jarring to me, but I perhaps believable due to Bone’s love of reading, which I supposed could familiarize her with a more formal dialect.
The culture and economic status of Bone’s family plays an important role in the story. Bone’s stepfather, Glen, can’t hold a job and her family lives in poverty (as do most of Glen’s mother’s family), but her stepfather’s two brothers are successful businessmen. Much of Glen’s anger stems from his inability to succeed and please his father, and Glen’s family sees Bone and her family as trash. But despite the fact that Bone’s uncles on her mother’s side are drunkards who are regularly jailed for fighting and who are unfaithful to their wives, they are loving and try to protect her when they see evidence of the abuse. Similarly, Bone periodically stays with several nurturing aunts on her mother’s side.
One vignette that seemed almost to be a story within the story had to do with Bone’s friend, Shannon Pearl. Themes in Shannon’s story parallel Bone’s, but almost act as a warning to Bone. Bone had ambiguous feelings about Shannon, who was described as being such an unattractive albino that her school mates universally scape-goated her, and complete strangers would gape at her. Shannon’s parents happen to organize gospel singing concerts, and in one scene, just after a singer tells Shannon how ugly she is, her mother blames the children for any problems (“‘I hope they weren’t bothering you,’” p. 166) and goes on to praise the singer: “‘I love it when you sing,’ she said, and half giggled. Shannon pulled away from her [mother:] and stared up at them both. The hate in her face was terrible. For a moment I loved her with all my heart. (p. 166)” While Bone doesn’t really like Shannon, she has great empathy for her situation and for Shannon’s anger. Shannon’s ugliness is her shame, just as Glen (Bone’s stepfather’s) abuse is Bone’s shame; neither of their mothers seems aware of her daughter’s desperate situation; and each girl as a result deals with incredible internalized anger. Shannon and Bone end up fighting, with Shannon calling Bone trash and Bone calling Shannon ugly. I think the warning to Bone comes when she later sees Shannon kill herself. I think the purpose of Shannon’s story in this book is to provide a turning point for Bone to decide she doesn’t want a fate like Shannon’s; this ultimately gives her the strength to understand that her mother will choose Glen over Bone and that Bone will lose her mother.
I was a little horrified to read somewhere that this novel is semi-autobiographical. Still, I’m not sure anyone could write as convincingly about maltreatment without having had some personal experience.(less)
I am pleased to post a review of one of the first books I've read in Spanish. It was a bit of a stretch for me, but I was able to read it without a di...moreI am pleased to post a review of one of the first books I've read in Spanish. It was a bit of a stretch for me, but I was able to read it without a dictionary (thanks to the illustrations)! Ironically, I believe this is a translation of a German book.
This is another in the genre of picture books for children in which animals are "adopted" by other species. In this case, a male goose is jealous of the hens, who are able to lay eggs and have babies. He adopts an egg that the barnyard dog found in the forest.
This book gets bonus points by featuring a single adoptive dad, as well as for its lovely illustrations. However, it gets demerits for completely omitting birth parents from the story. It manages to do so by casting the adoptee as either a dinosaur or a dragon (I'm not sure which) - so presumably, his parents are either extinct or imaginary.
The adoptee eventually gets teased by the chicks, who say he's not a "green goose" and so the male goose can't be his "mother." Eventually, the dinosaur/dragon goes searching for his mother. (I suspect an English translation would describe him as searching for his "real mother.") He ultimately decides that his mother is the one who feeds him, puts him to bed, and loves him - in other words, the male goose who adopted him. He does have a revelation that his parent is a daddy, not a mama.
In my view, _Mama_ by Jeanette Winter is an example of an adoption book that doesn't ignore the grief and loss involved in adoption. Another interesting example is _Stellaluna_, by Jannell Cannon. This latter example might actually be better considered a foster care story, since the baby bat who is cared for by a family of robins is eventually reunited with his bat mother.(less)
Take Me Home is Berrick’s critique of the current foster care system, including extensive references to the extant literature on foster care and child...moreTake Me Home is Berrick’s critique of the current foster care system, including extensive references to the extant literature on foster care and child well-being. She interweaves her critique with the personal stories of several women whose children were removed from them and placed into foster care. These personal stories make the book more readable and meaningful.
Berrick argues that “a better system would target children further upstream (p. 19),” addressing family problems when they are not so severe that they result in foster care placement. She delineates 3 types of prevention programs: 1) family support services, targeting healthy families; 2) child maltreatment prevention, targeting children and families that have some risk factors associated with maltreatment, and 3) family preservation services, targeting families at risk for placement into foster care. I agree that a prevention strategy makes sense; the challenge is that – to be effective - prevention efforts would need to be very broad. Risk factors for maltreatment that have been identified in research are poor predictors of maltreatment; only a small percentage of families that show such risk factors actually end up maltreating their children.
Berrick envisions a form of foster care in which “concurrent foster parents” would work as part of the intervention team on behalf of children’s best interests, including working directly with birth parents to facilitate reunification. These concurrent foster parents would also be committed to raising the foster child for as long as necessary, including adoption, should that become the case goal. (I do think this is an ideal model, and this is my personal philosophy as a foster parent: to be committed to any child placed in my care for as long as that child needs me.)
In my view, it is uncertain how well many foster parents can cope with two such different goals in mind: working toward reunification, but at the same time, a willingness (and desire) to adopt. Berrick does acknowledge that concurrent foster parents would have a difficult role. Yet, I’m not sure I agree with her statement that: “Falling in love is dangerous business, yet this is what the child welfare system asks of strangers every day: ‘Fall in love with our kids, but be prepared to give them up at a moment’s notice.’ (p. 50)” I don’t necessarily think that child welfare agencies expect foster parents to fall in love with the children, and I think that foster parents can – to some degree – protect themselves if they have as much information as possible about the status of cases. For example, fully understanding that the case goal is reunification may help reduce the shock to foster parents when foster children return home.
In order to recruit concurrent foster parents, and particularly those with social capital, Berrick believes efforts should “focus on the hundreds of thousands of parents in the United States who might become adoptive families. (p. 100)” I agree that it is worth suggesting that these families consider foster parenting. However, I think that many parents who are primarily interested in adoption would not be prepared for the type of “concurrent foster parenting” Berrick recommends. Many are interested in adoption due to infertility and may face issues of grief and lost that may make it particularly difficult for them to support actively reunification efforts for foster children.
There is often a dichotomy between reducing the turbulence that foster children experience by keeping children in their neighborhoods versus moving them into neighborhoods and families that posses greater social capital. As Berrick writes, “Caregivers living in vulnerable neighborhoods are likely to have demographic characteristics that provide less social capital than adults living in possibly adjacent, more affluent neighborhoods. (p. 100)” Does she really mean “demographic characteristics” here? Yes, black parents (and others belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as single parents) do on average have lower social capital than white parents (and married parents), but I would be very uncomfortable advocating recruiting for parents with advantaged demographic characteristics! I think what Berrick meant to say here is controversial enough – that families with certain *socioeconomic* (not demographic) characteristics have access to social capital that can benefit families, and that this merits moving foster children away from their home neighborhoods. I think these tradeoffs are difficult to weigh. For example, children may be less comfortable with foster families who are substantially different from their own families, and it may be that moving a child out of his neighborhood might hamper reunification efforts.
Berrick also addresses the issue of foster care subsidies. She notes that current foster care payments are intended to reimburse only basic expenses, so that foster parents won’t be motivated by money rather than by “charity.” She points out that foster care payments are not professional wages, but volunteer subsidies. Additionally, foster care work does not qualify foster parents for social security benefits, so they are “financially penalized” when they withdraw from this vocation. She notes that is surprising that so many people do provide foster care with such low rates.
Berrick also notes that “With inadequate financial compensation, monitoring, and support, quality foster care relies on the private decisions of individual caregivers to ‘do the right thing’ for the children in their care each and every day. Such as system, built upon the goodwill of private individuals… [is:] inadequate [today.:] p. 98” As a foster parent, it is a shock to realize how much latitude I am given in caring for children placed in my home – particularly as these are children who may have challenging behaviors or mental health problems. I have a friend who is a psychologist and a relative who teaches elementary school; both of them comment on how they occasionally give children hugs even though doing so is seen as professionally unacceptable. Yet as a foster parent, I don’t just hug children, I’m left alone to cuddle children, discipline them, and lie down next to them if they can’t sleep.
Berrick recommends providing caregiving “coaches” for foster parents, citing Super Nanny as an example of the usefulness and popularity of such coaching even in the general public. I agree with this suggestion. Even when social workers are available to consult with foster parents, they are generalists and can’t always provide the advice that a mental health clinician might. Berrick notes, “Foster parents [need:] coaching to manage children’s emotions and behaviors, services for children’s special needs, occasional respite from the demanding nature of the work, and aid during times of crisis (p. 104).” Berrick supposes that one reason for the success of treatment foster care is the availability of “intensive consultative services” to therapeutic foster parents, more so than the higher stipends such foster parents receive. She believes increased accountability is merited, so coaching should be paired with monitoring and close supervision.
Overall, though there are several points that I have critiqued, she makes many points with which I agree. I thought Berrick’s book was thought-provoking and well-written. (less)
**spoiler alert** This book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and gets rave reviews (at least, according to its cover) so I'm not sure what I was mis...more**spoiler alert** This book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and gets rave reviews (at least, according to its cover) so I'm not sure what I was missing. The story is compelling, and I think the author clearly illustrated the effect grief and loss, as well as secrets (or lies), can have on families. But I just wasn't crazy about the writing style. Maybe I'm biased against modern writers who try to sound writerly by using the word "for" instead of "because." The book was 400 pages, but it almost seemed to short to cover such an epic story, which covered 25 years and was told from the perspective of about 6 characters and included other characters as well.
It's interesting to compare Edwards' writing with Ann Patchett's. I heard Patchett say that she doesn't do any research in writing her novels; she just uses her imagination. On the other hand, Edwards notes in an afterward in my copy that she did a substantial amount of research, especially on Down syndrome. I feel she portrayed, in a sympathetic but not patronizing way, a character with Down syndrome. And Edwards doesn't say if she researched the topics of grief and loss or secrets and lies in adoption, but I think she got those right, as well.
The loss Norah believed she experienced - the stillbirth of a baby she never got to see - is a good example of ambiguous loss (see work by Pauline Boss). An ambiguous loss is one in which there is not clarity about who is a part of the family, or in which a family member or loved one is lost but not in a final way such as death. Also, because society does not have recognized rituals to address ambiguous losses, it is difficult to come to closure with an ambiguous loss. In this case, I would say the loss was ambiguous because Norah never met the baby, and society does not have standard rituals around miscarriage or stillbirth.
Norah actually made good efforts to resolve the ambiguity of her loss; for example, asking to see the baby (her husband refused) and deciding to have a memorial service (though her husband did not want a service). I think with her husband's support, she could have dealt with such a loss. However, the support Norah needed was impossible for her husband, David, to provide because he had lied about their daughter's fate.
Trying to protect Norah from the grief of raising a baby with Down syndrome, David had given the baby to a nurse and instructed her to take the baby to an institution for lifetime care. Instead, the nurse decided to raise the baby as her own daughter. Losing a baby to an almost closed adoption (David did not know where the nurse and his daughter lived, though he did receive periodic updates about them), and keeping it a secret, is another example of ambiguous loss.
The losses damaged David's relationship with Norah and with their daughter's twin brother, Paul (who did not have Down syndrome). As Edwards writes (p. 258), "Paul suffered for it, he knew that. David had tried so hard to give him everything. ... But however hard he worked to make Paul's life smooth and easy, the fact remained that David had built that life on a lie. He had tried to protect his son from the things he himself had suffered as a child: poverty and worry and grief. Yet his very efforts had created losses David never anticipated." And on p. 304-305, she addresses the way grief and loss don't simply disappear over time: "Remembering, her eyes filled with tears. Oh, this was silly, her loss had happened almost two decades ago. Surely this grief should not be welling up, fresh as water in a spring. ... She wept for this knowledge and for Paul, the rate and lostness in his eyes. For her daughter, never known. ... For the multitude of ways in which their love had failed them all, and they, love. Grief, it seemed, was a physical place."
These explanations are certainly astute descriptions of the effect ambiguous loss and secrets/lies can have on a family, but maybe my problem is that Edwards is not following the rule, "show, don't tell."
The metaphor of David's becoming a photographer seemed a bit contrived and forced to me. (The brand of the camera was "Memory Keeper.") Edwards writes on p. 381: "Camera, [David] told [Paul], came from the French chambre, room. To be in camera was to operate in secret. This was what his father believed: that each person was an isolated universe." A camera can be used to try to mold and perfect a moment that is not perfect and capture it in eternity; images fade or disappear in the darkroom like magic.
By the way, I wondered how Caroline was able to get through life as Phoebe's (adoptive) mother without bureaucratic difficulties. Did she forge Phoebe's birth certificate?
In summary, I'd say this book is good food for thought, but it just didn't satisfy me as a novel.(less)
In this well-written book, Harrison provides what seems like an honest description of her time spent caring for foster children. I don’t think she is...moreIn this well-written book, Harrison provides what seems like an honest description of her time spent caring for foster children. I don’t think she is just pretending to be humble by refuting claims that she is a saint or a hero. She describes losing her temper, for example, and trying to sabotage (albeit once, and in a fairly minor and passive aggressive way) the reunification of a girl she ultimately adopts with the girl’s birth mother.
Harrison seems to be insightful about children. For example, she observed how interested the children were in looking at photos that showed evidence that they were "noticed and well cared for (p. 30)". Also, she described how children in foster care believe that the problems are their own fault and act out as a result of their feelings of fear, anger, and embarrassment. She writes, "Children who have lived in chaos often don't have labels for their feelings. ... no one bother[s] to help them process it or put it in any kind of context. Because of their egocentric natures, children perceive adult events as being all about them (pp. 100-101)." Clearly, children need help from someone, whether a therapist or a foster parent, to deal with their feelings.
She also acknowledges that there is a bi-directional relationship between children's behavior and maltreatment: "Was he so difficult because he was abused, or did his mother abuse him because he was so difficult? (p. 28)" I don’t think she is saying that any child ever deserves maltreatment, but that difficult child behavior could be the breaking point for a parent who is already under substantial stress.
The author truly seems to love her "work" as a foster parent (I put that in quotes b/c I consider it to be a volunteer position), but she acknowledges what I would think is the most difficult part of foster care: "The price is paid in installments, by my husband and by our children, every time we love and lose and every time we can't love enough (p. 9)." Here, she is referring not just to children moving out of her home, but to children who don't end up in better situations after being in her care. She later expands on this, saying "To foster meant learning to be satisfied with giving Band-Aids to children and families who need intensive care (p. 52)."
Not only can she not do “enough” for foster children, but I agree with what I think she implies at one point, that foster care is—in some sense—inherently negative for children. Harrison writes, "[the foster care system], despite its honorable intentions, often seemed to do as much harm as good (p. 7)." Obviously, abuse and neglect are harmful for children, and, one hopes, the care provided by foster parents can support children’s well-being. But regardless of their maltreatment, being removed from their parents is still a traumatic experience for children.
Additionally, she points out a reservation that I suspect many people who seriously consider foster care have: “…I could never be certain when one of the kids I offered a haven to would make the jump from victim to perpetrator. … I couldn’t guarantee the safety of any of my little ones… (p. 193).”
The book provides useful and concise background information pertaining to children in foster care. For example, she provides a brief and clear description of the attachment cycle (p. 26). She also gives a description of the case reviews that occur every 6 months, at least as they occurred in Massachusetts in the 1990s. (p. 144-145).
I know that localities have different views (and these views change over time) about whether certain children are "adoptable" or not. Clearly, finding a good adoptive home for some children is extremely difficult, but it seems sad to me when adoption is not even considered. She describes one child who was retarded and acted out sexually and who was placed with her at about age 7. This very young child "... could never go home again, but he wasn't seen as a candidate for adoption (p. 27)."
The book also includes some broader observations about the way society deals with foster children and their birth families. For example, she noted that the lack of privacy in the visitation area of the social services building indicated a lack of respect for all the participants (foster parents, children, and birth families.) This is something that appalled me personally when I went to my local court to read the case file of a child for whom I was the Court Appointed Special Advocate. As I sat in the children's waiting room taking notes at a miniature table, an attorney was discussing his teenage client's case, including very personal information that was none of my business, not 5 feet away from me.
She comments, as other authors have, on the "elitist" idea that families experiencing problems with poverty, drugs, or mental illness are not deserving, and that their children and foster parents are guilty by association. This perception hinders changes in social services that could truly help families before the children, ironically, do change from victims into offenders as often happens in adolescence. She notes (contrary to Marc Parent) that leaving children with their biological families would help, but only if (currently non-existent) intensive social services could be provided. She feels that no one who adopts wants to do so only to rescue a child from poverty. Rather, they "only want to give homes to children who really need them (p. 161)." Like Sarah Gerstenzang, she believes the low pay for foster parents is in appropriate. "...to pay a family less to care for a troubled child than many people pay to board a dog is a disgrace (p. 136)."(less)
I think this book is valuable for building empathy for what kids in the foster care system experience, and for showing the difficult circumstances und...moreI think this book is valuable for building empathy for what kids in the foster care system experience, and for showing the difficult circumstances under which investigative workers work (e.g., a two-week training period, even for those with no relevant experience and unrelated fields of study; large caseloads and limited resources). It is also interesting to consider that Parent never learns the outcomes of any children whose cases he investigates (other than those whose cases are reported in the media, presumably). I would think this would be a very difficult aspect of the job, but Parent remarks on it only briefly at the end of the book.
Unfortunately, the writing style is over the top. For example: "...Ms. Jacobs was sweating a kiddie pool in her bed. She scratched with animal intensity throughout he night, creating a racket like a collision in slow motion--like the sound of fire (p. 90)." The same woman later "[cried] like a stifled popgun... (p. 94)," and she "worked like a sled husky (p. 96)." Also, she was "consumed by a bullfight raging in her head (p. 96)." In another scene, "[Children] were stacking some dirty-looking hollow plastic blocks covered with the spit and tears of a thousand sick children (p. 101)." I suppose Parent is trying to be literary, but these images often don't ring true or are so overwrought as to be distracting.
Parent spends a lot of time scared. For example, in one chapter, he is so scared he could feel "...the hairs on the back of my neck slowly rotating in their follicles... (p. 109)." In another chapter, he writes: "I don't have to tell you we were scared--[But rest assured, he does anyway.]--as many times as we'd been in bad waters and we were still scared (p. 305)."
Toward the end of the book, he develops an oddly informal and grammatically incorrect style. "Me and a few of his friends sat in a room playing cards... (p. 328)." Is this intended to show how he now fits in with the tough New Yorkers he works with?
Parent comes to several conclusions I'm not sure I agree with. For example, in one chapter, he describes a woman who forces two of her children out of their apartment window to their deaths, in a delusional effort to save them from a lifetime of suffering. Parent observes that "we all hold, in our minds, the ability to create images that would break us in half (p. 109)." Now, I would agree that everyone has an ability to behave cruelly, especially under duress, but I am not sure that any one of us could snap into delusion at a moment's notice.
Also, after describing an incident in which he roughly handled a child who resisted a removal, he writes, "The injustices we commit against others always end up falling harder on us that the ones we've hurt (p.160)." This statement is especially ironic in a book about parents who maltreat their children. Isn't this the classic thing parents say when spanking their child (i.e., this hurts me more than it hurts you)? Shouldn't children be considered inherently more vulnerable than adults?
Toward the end of the book, Parent struggles to understand how he could have failed to remove a baby from his home, when the baby dies a few days later of starvation. He initially torments himself that perhaps he felt this poor family was not as deserving of his attention as a better-off family would be. Later he has the epiphany that he had "lost perspective on the power of the moment...to effect change (p. 350)." He decides that his inaction was due to a feeling of futility to help a family whose problems were so deep, but that making even a small change should be satisfying. It is "arrogant and naive" to aim to solve such deep problems; instead, one should aim for the satisfaction of making a small difference.
Parent ends the book by describing a child, recently removed from his family, who experiences "joy" after receiving some new clothes while waiting for a foster placement. Parent says he "knew he was one of the lucky ones because for just a moment, I had seen it for what it was (p. 358)." I am not quite sure what he means here. Seen *what* for what it was? Lucky for witnessing some tiny, positive thing in a sea of problems?
In the epilogue, Parent concludes that workers must be kept empowered in order to "keep them from losing track of the vital importance of their work (p. 361)." Later, in the afterword, the only solution he provides is that workers need to "live in the moment" and maintain a mindset that allows them to "continue to fight the battle" on behalf of children. While Parent acknowledges problems in the system, he ultimately holds individual workers responsible for letting children slip through their fingers. However, I think that while finding ways to workers motivated is important, workers cannot be successful if the broader child welfare system does not provide them with sufficient resources and support.(less)
**spoiler alert** I hadn't previously read any detailed accounts of children orphaned as a result of the Vietnam war and who came to the United States...more**spoiler alert** I hadn't previously read any detailed accounts of children orphaned as a result of the Vietnam war and who came to the United States (e.g., Operation Babylift), but I felt this book--even though fiction--gave me an idea of how it might have affected various people involved. These people include the children themselves, some of whom were adopted and some of whom were not, their birth parents, their adoptive parents, and Americans and Vietnamese who worked in orphanages caring for the children.
The book includes eight interconnected "stories." Each is written in the third person but focuses on a different main character, though the characters involved in the different stories overlap. I found the book well-written. For some reason, the author omits quotation marks for dialogue--I've seen this before and I'm not sure why authors do it (e.g., in the Piano Tuner, which I recently read). To me, it makes the writing seem sort of stream of consciousness and obscures a bit whether the dialogue is actually being said, or whether the main character is imagining the dialogue. However, sometimes it can be a bit confusing to keep track of what is being said. In a number of chapters, the author effectively lets the reader imagine what has happened rather than describing it. For example, the chapter involving Bridget, an American orphanage worker in Vietnam who wants to adopt Huan, ends with the revelation that there is a problem with Bridget's paperwork and with Bridget desperately imagining that she will be able to adoption Huan and reconcile with her estranged husband. But the next chapter begins with an adult Huan traveling with his mother Gwen. (Also, a previous chapter mentioned Huan living in California, not where Bridget lived.) So the reader is left imagining Bridget's coming anguish.
Two of the stories seemed almost parallel to each other (to the point that I almost wondered if both characters were necessary in the book)--Vinh and Kim both grew up in foster care, both are angry, both are briefly befriended by parental figures in the community, but in both cases, these parental figures end up accepting the brunt of the Vinh and Kim's rage.
The book raises interesting issues about responsible motherhood. One mother in the novel are so desperate for their children to be adopted that they shove their infants through the bars of the orphanage gate, resulting in contusions and concussions for the infants. I am sure many mothers felt that surrendering their children to the orphanage was their children's only chance for survival. Another (Bridget) "abandons" her biological child in America for 3 years to take care of the hundreds of Vietnamese orphans who need her. A Vietnamese woman never becomes a mother, breaking her engagement to work in an orphanage becomes inured to babies' cries b/c the orphanage doesn't have enough formula to feed them. (Her former fiancee accuses that this is evidence she would have been a terrible mother.) A Vietnamese mother of 3 who works in an orphanage refuses to send 2 of her sons without her to America on the babylift, saying that her family needs her in Vietnam. A white adoptive mother adores her Vietnamese son (Huan), always forgiving him and trying hard to do the right thing, but she seems like a "colorblind" mom who is not aware of issues related to transracial adoption. Another couple are exemplary parents--except that they won't adopt their foster daughter (Mai) b/c they want to help as many children as possible. What is a parent's responsibility? To keep their biological children with them regardless of the situation? In what situations is it better to relinquish (even if temporarily) one's child?
The contrast between Huan and Mai's situations seems to be an example of the difference adoption *might* make for a young person. On p. 241, Phan writes: "Huan can never really complain about his parents. They always showed him love, even during his angry years when he threw their devotion into their faces, sneering that they treated him like a charity case, their trendy Vietnamese baby whose life they rescued. How could they really love him? They didn't even know him. They forgave him for all of this. They continued to love him, even when he couldn't believe it or accept it." In contrast, "[Mai] did everything to demonstrate that she'd make a nice daughter. She listened to them, never disobeyed house rules, and always respected curfew. The Reynoldses talked about how proud they were of Mai, what a fine person she was. That was where their admiration ended. They had so many years to make her a legitimate part of their family, but the possibility was never even discussed. (p. 158)" When Mai comes home upset a few hours late the evening of her 18th birthday, her foster father is initially warm and concerned but when Mai becomes even more upset, he turns his back on her. Mai feels guilty comparing her difficulties to those of her friend Kim, who bounced through multiple foster homes, but it's clear the situation is difficult for everyone--really for everyone involved in the story in any capacity.
It's worth noting that this book includes some graphic and grim descriptions, including the violence in the chapter about Vinh and the desperate conditions in the orphanages in Vietnam. It's one thing to read a psychology text about the attachment cycle in which an infant develops trust when an adult (usually a parent) reliably fulfills an infant's needs when he cries, and about how attachment disorder can develop when those needs aren't fulfilled. But it's another thing to read about how babies crying for milk initially continue crying after being fed watered-down milk but eventually stop after receiving nothing more to fill their tummies because people who sincerely want to help them have nothing else to give them. This book makes you think not only about the effect on the babies, but about the adults in this terrible position.(less)
**spoiler alert** I found the book an easy and compelling read, although I feel like there is some deeper meaning her that I am not getting.
I haven’t...more**spoiler alert** I found the book an easy and compelling read, although I feel like there is some deeper meaning her that I am not getting.
I haven’t read _The Patron Saint of Liars_, but I have read _The Magician’s Assistant_ and _Bel Canto_. Unfortunately, I am like an amnesiac when it comes to remembering plots, but I do recall both books had a tinge of surrealism mixed with a realistic story. This sort of thing always throws me for a loop. The fantastic (I mean, fantasy-like) aspect in this book of course was Tennessee Alice Moser appearing to Tennessee on her deathbed. Interestingly, the truth behind the fantastic family legend about the statue turned out not to be so fantastic.
It’s interesting to compare the two adoption situations (Kenya versus Tip and Teddy). On the one hand, we have a white couple who adopts two black babies through an adoption agency. This adoptive family is a high-profile, wealthy family in which the mother dies from cancer. Since it’s a trans-racial adoption, the two boys obviously always know that they have been adopted, and the boys feel some ambivalence toward their adoptive father. On the other hand, we have a single, low-income black woman who informally adopts a baby girl when her friend, that girl's mother, dies. This girl apparently never knows she is adopted, but she is absolutely devoted to her adoptive mother. I feel like the author is trying to say something with this comparison, but I am not sure what it is. In both situations, the adoptive parents seem to want to erase something of the past. In Kenya’s case, her mother hides her adoption, and in the boys’ case, the parents never wanted to think about their birth mother (to the point that the boys’ mother claims not to remember Tip’s original name). The comparison of the two adoptive situations is interesting in this book, since I think secrecy typically turns out to be a bad thing in real life, but it doesn’t seem to in this book.
It seemed to me that both of these adoptive situations were fairly realistic, except that my understanding is that informal (non-legalized) kin adoptions are fairly common, especially among some African American families. Therefore, I don’t think it would have been necessary for Kenya’s adoptive mother to assume her birth mother’s identity in order to raise her as her daughter. It does seem realistic to me that a birth parent would be interested in keeping tabs on her children, although the degree to which Tennessee did so was pretty extreme.
Another theme going on was Doyle’s attitude toward his sons. He had high aspirations for them to become politicians, but felt he had “failed…[in] his drive to shape them (p. 31),” despite the fact that one was studying science at Harvard and the other was a nice guy devoted to his Catholic faith who regularly visited his elderly uncle in the nursing home. I would say this is ridiculous, except that I myself have a friend whose father was disappointed with her for not going into law, even though she graduated from Harvard, subsequently earned a master’s degree, and went to work for the United Nations. Maybe the author is commenting here on wealthy white parents?
Another thing I noticed throughout the book was the description of people’s race. For example, “A nervous white girl stepped up to the microphone…(p. 34);” “Of the two men who worked on her mother, one was white and one was black (p. 46);” an old woman in he hospital was “white, dead white (p. 58);” a doctor “…was what some people would call a dark-skinned man, but he wasn’t black (p. 59);” and so on. I felt like this primary description of incidental characters according to their race would not happen in another book.
On the other hand, I felt there were some descriptions of what I thought might be "stuff white people like" (so to speak) such as the playing of Schubert at the Doyles’ home. And Tip seemed to feel very comfortable at Harvard, which I think of as primarily a privileged white environment. And Teddy quoted all sorts of speeches, everything from Jesse Jackson to Ronald Reagan!
Finally, there is the theme of running. Kenya was a runner. The boys also ran in high school, but not with as much talent or devotion as Kenya did. Doyle hoped his sons would run for political positions. And was Sullivan running away by going to Africa? Kenya felt that if she couldn’t run, “…she didn’t know who she would be at all (p. 53).” Knowing who one is certainly seems to be a theme in this book.
So, I feel like I was able to identify some themes in this book, but I’m not sure how to interpret their significance.
I found the ending of the book interesting… a lot happens in the last 10 or so pages. In just a few pages, Tip has gotten his medical degree (which pleases his father) but has already changed his mind to go back to ichthyology. Kenya is living with the Doyles and everything seems to be hunky dory... which doesn’t seem quite right to me.(less)
The forward to this book praises Gerstenzang for providing a rare insight to the child welfare system from the perspective of a foster parent. However...moreThe forward to this book praises Gerstenzang for providing a rare insight to the child welfare system from the perspective of a foster parent. However, as a white, upper middle-class woman with no prior experience with the system, the author is not a typical foster parent (as the author herself acknowledges). Still, I felt that the book provided me with some insight into the experience of foster parenting—specifically, how she felt before a child was placed with her, how she felt while she was a foster parent, how she felt after becoming a pre-adoptive parent, how her family and neighbors reacted to the situation, and how she felt about interacting with her foster daughter's birth family and with other foster parents. Additionally, the book provides insight into the system and policies that govern it, especially since Gerstenzang's perspective is informed by the masters' degree in social work that she completed around the time she was foster parenting. Gerstenzang's writing style is clear and straightforward.
The author describes her anticipation of fostering with almost the excitement I would think any prospective parent would feel. Yet at the same time, she felt uncomfortable that her family would benefit from some other mother's difficulty—and, when they hadn't yet had a child placed with them, it was as if they were waiting for this difficulty to occur. I found this interesting because I expect this would be how an adoptive parent might feel, but not necessarily a foster parent.
Gerstenzang also describes the awkwardness she experienced with her neighbors and acquaintances when the baby was first placed with them. She mentions the types of reactions she received, which seemed to come from either of two motivations: raw curiosity (which she felt as rude), or genuine concern.
A comment Gerstenzang frequently received was that others could never foster parent because they would become too attached to a child. She wanted to respond (but apparently didn't) that "…getting attached is a risk, but we are adults and we are supposed to care about children in our society, even if that is difficult (p. 39)." I agree with this sentiment: the best interest of the child should outweigh the best interests of the adults.
In general, the author wondered "why middle-class Americans showed little to no interest in these children…but could go to so much trouble and expense for children in other countries (p. 37)." However, she felt a benefit of her fostering was that it made her neighbors think about the plight of foster children—they couldn't just ignore it when directly confronted with the situation.
Another insight to her feelings as a foster parent included her description of the vagueness of her role as a parent. The conflicting roles of supporting reunification while wanting to keep the baby led to ambivalence about how attached she should become to the child. Additionally, she felt the "lack of ritual" in foster parenting added to the vagueness of her role. The baby is practically dropped at her doorstep with no "anticipation, baby announcements, baby shower, and so on (p. 36)." The vagueness of her role filtered into confusion and awkwardness about what kind of relationship she should have with the baby's birth mother. Yet at the end of the book, she notes that she "came to see the development of this relationship as a healthy and unwitting benefit of the foster care system (p. 182)."
She also notes feeling anxiety because her foster child could be removed from her home (not just to be reunified with her birth mother, but to be placed in a different foster home) at any time. She describes the concept of "anticipatory grief," which "is when parents are afraid of getting too attached to the baby (consciously or unconsciously) because they are afraid something might happen to the baby (p. 123)." Although it is a defense mechanism, she implies that it is problematic because it inhibits attachment. This seems to me to be the natural flip side of ambiguous loss (a concept defined by Pauline Boss, who writes on her website, "with ambiguous loss, there is no closure; the challenge is to learn to live with the ambiguity" http://www.ambiguousloss.com).
Another issue Gerstenang dealt with was caring for a child of a different race from herself. She initially felt self-conscious caring for an African American baby ("… sometimes my worry stemmed from a feeling that, by caring for Cecilia, somehow we had taken advantage of or stolen something precious from black people as a whole (p. 110).") She describes the position of the National Association of Black Social Workers (in favor of placing African American children with African American families when possible, but not to the extent that this goal should delay a child's placement in a permanent family), and she also briefly describes the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (which outlawed making adoptive placements based on race-matching). According to Gerstenzang, one reason she did not initially consider herself as an adoptive resource for the girl was that she felt it would be "easier" for her if she were placed with an African American family.
Gerstenzang argues that foster parents should be salaried. She says that the rationale for low reimbursements is to keep away foster parents who want to do it for the money, rather than for humanitarian reasons. But she points out a number of problems for foster parents that I hadn't considered previously: since foster parents aren't employees, they don't get health insurance, social security benefits, and they do not have liability coverage through public agencies. Furthermore, their non-professional status reduces their clout as a member of the team who might have valuable input about the best interests of a child. She notes that increasing the pay for foster parents would cost less than providing group care for foster children, and other workers with humanitarian roles are salaried professionals. She acknowledges that one could easily alternatively argue in favor of devoting more resources to birth parents to help them get on track.
Gersentzang addresses the way in which public resources in the United States are allocated to various potential beneficiaries. Factors on which decisions are made include 1.) the perceived "deservingness" of the group, 2.) the universality of the reason for need, and 3.) whether society at large will benefit from improving the condition of the group in need. Children are generally considered deserving, but abusive and neglectful parents are not. Therefore, relatively minimal assistance is provided to parents, and resources are instead provided for placing children in foster care (though foster parents themselves are not salaried and their stipends typically do not cover their expenses; Gerstenzang—citing Bernstein—asserts that the reason for this is that foster care should not be an appealing option for parents in need—it should be bad enough that no one would willingly place their children in foster care.) As a foster parent, she found WIC, Medicaid, and the foster care system difficult to deal with, suggesting that middle managers were building in a "deterrent" for their use based on their assumption that the beneficiaries were not deserving. In contrast, she had a more positive experience with early intervention (developmental services for young chilcren), a program that is universally accessible to anyone in the U.S.
Many of Gerstenzang's views on fostering and adoption seem progressive to me and she seems to have thought sincerely and carefully about what is really in a child's best interest. However, she does not seem progressive in one regard: once she and her husband became pre-adoptive parents for their daughter when she was about 12 months old, they changed her name from Cecilia to Ella. She explains that Cecelia's name was problematic because everyone shortened it to Ceci, which was the name of their family dog. She rationalized the name change because "some experts state that until the age of two, children are called by many pet names and haven't internalized their name, so a name change isn't thought of as harmful to the child (Michaels 2002, 48) p. 166." Further, she describes the name change as requiring "courage" because name changes are unusual and because the girls' adoption was far from finalized. However, she doesn't mention a study that suggests that babies recognize their own names as early as 4-1/2 months (Mandel, D.R., Jusczyk, P.W., & Pisoni, D.B. (1995). Infants' recognition of the sound patterns of their own names. Psychological Science, 6, 314–317).
Interestingly, near the end of the book, she notes that if they adopted the foster child, "we would probably not be foster parents again, a role we had enjoyed (p. 163)." This did not seem sincere to me, since I am pretty sure that, earlier on in the book, she was so frustrated with the "f****d up system" that she did not want to foster parent again. In other instance, she describes foster parents as "often traumatized and disempowered by the system (p. 92)."
An unexpected insight I gained pertained to the experience of parenting when one is not employed full-time. It seemed to me that Gerstenzang had more time to enjoy the baby and the role fo parenting because she was not overburdened with rushing the kids to child care, then rushing home to fix dinner and get everyone in bed. It seem slike this lifestyle would benefit foster children, and a foster parent salary might make it more feasible.(less)
I hesitate to give 5 stars since I'm sure this isn't the best-book-ever classic, but what the heck, I liked it and thought it was well-written. I thou...moreI hesitate to give 5 stars since I'm sure this isn't the best-book-ever classic, but what the heck, I liked it and thought it was well-written. I thought there were interesting structures and contrasts; the novel was like a puzzle that made me think about how all the ideas fit together. BTW, this book is also being discussed at: http://harlowmonkey.typepad.com/book_...
Although I think _Happy Family_ was more about the characters (and in particular, the development of Hua, the main character) than about adoption per se, I do also think the author was commenting on international adoption (esp. with the kidnapping incident). While Jane clearly wanted a child, she also seemed to have a China fetish that Lily was helping to fulfill. The author writes on P. 56, "In some ways it was that simple: Lily needed parents and Jane and her husband needed a child. But foreigners were forever meddling in business that wasn't theirs, taking things that didn't belong to them."
This last statement, about foreigners taking things that didn’t belong to them, is very interesting, in that Hua – a foreigner in the United States – takes small things belonging to Jane, and eventually takes her daughter, Lily. I thought it was a great irony that Jane adopted from China partially b/c she was afraid of a domestic birth parent coming back to steal the baby, yet her daughter is kidnapped anyway by someone who was close to having been a Chinese birth parent.
I felt Hua was an empathetic character. I felt anxious when she was poking around Jane's apartment (b/c I feared she might be caught at any moment) but I felt that her looking through Jane's things, and even trying on her clothes and makeup, made it a bit more believable that she might kidnap Lily.
Characters in the book compare whether remaining in China would have been worse than her situation in the United States, with the assumption that any life in China would be worse than the worst scenario in the United States. At Lily’s birthday party, Jane, her husband, and Lily appear to be a “happy family”, but “…‘that’s the look of a couple before they split’” says another mom. The other mom replies, “‘Well, if they do split up, I feel sorry for Lily.’ ‘But think of what she was saved from. She would probably have died of some third-world disease of grown up with no education or been sold into sexual slavery if she stayed in that place.’ (p. 169)” Both women laugh at the joke that this alternative might be better than all the therapy Lily will need. I don’t believe that Hua takes Lily to save her from a broken family, though, since she herself is single. I thought it was more that she felt a connection with Lily, and Hua would lose that connection if she were no longer Lily’s babysitter. . Hua believed she loved Lily, and maybe she did, but I think that was partly due to the fact that Lily was the same age Hua's own baby would have been.
One random thing... I didn't think it was realistic that Jane, as an adoptive parent, would refer to Lily's birth parents as her "real parents."
The novel also touched on white Americans’ perceptions of Chinese people and culture. Jane hires Hua as a babysitter, but “Jane wanted me to be a role model for Lily, to teach her how to be Chinese. I didn’t know if I could do it. (p. 97)” I think Hua feels this way partly because very few, if any, people probably fit the mold of a white American’s fantasy of a Chinese person, but also because she had failed in her own life in China (by getting pregnant and flunking out of school). When Jane asks Hua what toys Chinese children play with, she can’t think of any “acceptable” responses, so mentions kites – based on a picture she had seen in a book. At the same time Jane had a stereotype of Hua as a Chinese woman, she also somehow viewed Hua as being like herself when she was younger, in terms of her feelings and position in life. Neither of these images – despite seeming to be the ends of a spectrum – fit Hua. Surprisingly, however, Jane and Hua do seem to have one very deep experience in common, although it is not developed in the book in Jane’s character: Jane sees a therapist due to “losing a child, wanting a child, having a child… (p. 163)” A main difference is that Hua does not have her own child (though perhaps the book is suggesting that, if international adoption is “foreigners taking things that don’t belong to them,” then Jane doesn’t have her own child, either.
I was also interested (and disturbed) by the Evan character. He also somehow fits into what the author is saying about white Americans and their attitudes toward Chinese culture and people... Perhaps there was supposed to be a parallel between Evan using Hua to fulfill a China fetish and Jane using Lily in a somewhat similar selfish way. Both Jane and Evan used Hua because she was Chinese, but Jane did it in a way that was more up-front (admitting that one reason she wanted Hua as a nanny b/c she was Chinese) and compensating her financially. In contrast, I felt Evan was not up-front about his motives... but, on second thought, maybe he actually was. After all, he was clear about his personal interest in China, and the (creepy) venue of their first date must have made his intentions clear! And, on thinking about Evan further, I'd say he is key in Hua's character development, too. She was snookered by men twice. I guess he had me snookered too, b/c I initially thought he might be the way up for Hua.(less)
Given that this is the first book of a very young author, I was impressed at how good the writing was. Rhodes-Courter tells her story in a direct way,...moreGiven that this is the first book of a very young author, I was impressed at how good the writing was. Rhodes-Courter tells her story in a direct way, using a "show me, don't tell me" approach. The simple facts of her numerous placements, the maltreatment in some of her placements, and the negligence of some of the child protective services (CPS) authorities alone are enough to make a reader understand how angry and desolate she must have felt, and why it took a long time for her to trust her adoptive parents. (In fact, she had so many placements that when I picked the book up again after a break in reading, I had trouble remembering where she was.) She also uses dialog extensively, which keeps the read lively.
A good portion of the book is focused on the abusive foster home in which she lived for 8 months (and returned for an overnight respite visit at a later time!) Multiple maltreatment reports to CPS from teachers and interviews with the children themselves either were not investigated or not taken seriously. These foster parents, Charles and Marjorie Moss, were allegedly model foster parents who even taught foster parenting classes and were allowed to adopt several children. The only possible explanation I can think of for this - which is FAR from an excuse - is that the Mosses did not turn children away, regardless of how "difficult" previous foster parents had found a child. As Rhodes-Courter reports another foster child said, "Nobody wants me because of my temper. That's why we're all here. The Mosses take the ones nobody else wants. (p. 96)"
While Rhodes-Courter's mother was clearly negligent, she did seem to care for her and Rhodes-Courter wanted for years to be reunited with her mother. It is ironic, as Rhodes-Courter observes, that the state would pay a substantial sum over the years to have Rhodes-Courter cared for by neglectful and abusive foster parents who clearly didn't care for her, yet the state did not provide financial support to her mother.
Rhodes-Courter's story also highlights a few additional things that could be done to ease foster children's lives at least a bit. First, she was rarely or never told why she was in care, why she was being moved, or what was going on with her mother and her child welfare case, even in an age-appropriate way. Secondly, at times, no one made an effort to allow her to take a few valued possessions with her from one placement to the next (and sometimes she was actively prevented from doing so.)
The story is not all dark; Rhodes-Courter describes several teachers who mentored her, as well as Ms. Sandnes, a "primary caregiver" at a group home who was so well-loved by the children that they had to be pried off her and then tried to throw themselves under the wheels of her car when she left her job to get a master's degree.
Rhodes-Courter seems very honest in telling her story; she describes a number of instances in which she behaved very poorly toward her adoptive parents (though in a few cases, the "misbehavior" was due to misunderstanding rather than bad intentions). Clearly this book required a lot of research. Rhodes-Courter was very young when she first entered foster care, so she could not have written the entire book based on her memory alone, and she describes going through several boxes of case files and interviewing a number of her foster parents and others involved in her case.
This book is sold in the children's section of my local bookstore, but I'm not sure that's appropriate. While I think it would be a good read for any mature child and particularly for youth in foster care, I think this book would appeal to anyone interested in child welfare, regardless of their age.(less)
I think the key factors that should determine the rating of this book are 1) the correctness (and relevance) of the description of how Tann carried ou...moreI think the key factors that should determine the rating of this book are 1) the correctness (and relevance) of the description of how Tann carried out adoptions, and trickier, 2) the correctness of the description of the effect that Tann had on the general practice of adoption, continuing decades after her death. This is hard for me to rate, since I actually had never even heard of (or didn't recall hearing of) Georgia Tann previously. Some of the primary allegations that Raymond makes against the way Tann was directly involved in adoption is that she: - Pressured poor and/or single, white mothers to relinquish their children, or actually stole them (in many cases taking newborns from the hospital and telling the mother the child had died), - Maltreated children while they were in her care, - Charged adoptive parents exorbitant and unjustified fees for adoptive placements, - Did not review the qualifications of prospective adoptive parents (sometimes leading to children's placement with abusive adoptive parents), and - Falsified birth certificates so that adoptive parents were recorded as the biological parents, and prevented anyone access from the original records.
Raymond's interpretation is that Tann was responsible for the modern practice of closed adoption. This includes: - The prevention of contact of the birth parents with the child and adoptive parents, and - Altering adoptees' original birth certificates such that the adoptive parents are listed as the birth parents and locking up the original records. Additionally, she posits that Tann was responsible for: - Swaying public opinion to believe that the biological children of single and/or poor white mothers would be better raised by wealthy white couples, - Swaying attitudes among infertile couples that adoption is a viable option for becoming parents, - Popularizing the idea that adopted children are "blank slates" who can be just like biological children to adoptive parents and who have no need or interest in knowing about their roots, and - Developing a market (national and international) for adoption "brokers" who find vulnerable mothers, get (through hook or by crook) their children, place them with adoptive parents, and make a lot of money.
Now, I was well familiar with all the points noted immediately above about closed adoption, but it's impossible for me to say whether Tann is really responsible for them. It seems clear that Tann either followed or originated these practices, however.
I was a bit confused by Raymond's repeated reference to "ethical social workers" who followed some of Tann's practices. For example, she notes that "Georgia's influence was so great that even ethical social workers, by the 1940s, place for adoption many more children than they should have. (p. 117)" Yet, it seems to me that NONE of the aspects of adoption, as Tann carried it out, are "ethical" (except perhaps the more accepting public attitude toward adoption). More examples... "Ethical professionals could conceive of only one way of competing with baby sellers: by imitating them (p. 215)." And on p. 216: "And to mollify adoptive parents 'fearful' of losing their children, social workers began refusing to give adult adoptees information about their roots. To save children, ethical social workers denied them their past."
Raymond's statement that "...American adoptees are legally forbidden from knowledge of their birth parents' names (p. 201)" is a bit of a stretch. Yes, adoptees with closed adoptions in many states have no access to their original birth records. (And I personally agree this lack of access is unethical.) But in some states (as Raymond herself acknowledges) this is not the case. Further, open adoptions (where there is some degree of contact between the birth and adoptive family) are not, to my knowledge, illegal, if all parties consent.
I also agree with some other reviewers that the information in the book could have been presented more succinctly. Also, I'm a little ambivalent about whether the extensive information at the beginning of the book was necessary (about the way the yellow fever plague decades earlier made Memphians more vulnerable to exploitations), but it was interesting.
In any case, if Tann really WAS even partially responsible for changing adoption practices in the ways Raymond alleges, this is an extremely important book. And even if she wasn't responsible for closed adoption, the book is still important because of the direct effect on the 5,000 to 6,000 children Tann placed for adoption. I think the reason that, overall, I believed Raymond's assertions about Tann is that, even today, adoptive parents frequently pay tens of thousands of dollars. It almost seems inevitable, when most prospective adoptive parents have so much more economic power than most birth parents, the "adoption market" would be corrupted.(less)
**spoiler alert** I read this book after reading a Washington Post review. Since I agree with the Post review, I'm pasting a link for it here: http://...more**spoiler alert** I read this book after reading a Washington Post review. Since I agree with the Post review, I'm pasting a link for it here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/0525949739 I would add that Maxted has a tendency to use adjectives instead of adverbs, but I got over that annoyance, since compelling and interesting characters are generally what make a book for me. However, Cassie, the adopted sister, was less believable to me than Lizbet, the sister who had a miscarriage. In fact, I found Lizbet's reaction to her miscarriage so believable that I wondered if Maxted had personal experience with miscarriage, but not with adoption.
I hesitate to make this comparison, but I enjoyed the book the way I would enjoy a Jane Austen (I guess that's why some describe it as chick lit), with the humor, the way the plot is wrapped up at the end, and one or two male characters you can have a little crush on. However, Maxted's writing style and plot would definitely not merit more than 3 stars compared to Austen's 5.(less)