A social worker looks back 50 years to her decision to become a foster parent to five boys.
As debut author Thompson-Guppy recounts her story of fostering children from dysfunctional families, she comes across as brave, nurturing, and naïve by turns. In 1963, the Canadian Children’s Aid Society sponsored a group home for the first time, and the author and her then-husband received minimal information on their kids’ backgrounds and no training: “it did not occur to me that I was putting my family at risk by inviting them into our home—and that naïveté may have been the reason they integrated in a successful manner,” she writes. With only a psychology degree and a short stint as a social worker at Toronto’s Unwed Mothers Department, she plunged into her new role. “Lefty,” 15, was the first to join the author, her husband, and their toddler, Trisha; he’d been abused by his father, who’d chained him to a swing set as punishment. After that came 13-year-old “Bob,” whose parents drank excessively and beat him. Later, “Val,” “Johnny,” and “Dan” joined the household. (The boys’ names are all changed.) Some boys stayed for about a year, but others left quickly; one was removed after he hit Trisha. The kids fell into predictable trouble—drug dealing, addiction, failed relationships—and the author tells of calmly helping them navigate their problems. Overall, the tone of this book is like a warm letter home, and it engagingly illuminates the life of a foster parent for troubled kids. However, it also has one primary weakness: a lack of extensive interviews with the boys themselves. For example, nearly 50 years after she took them into her home, she met Lefty, Bob, and Dan for a reunion. It’s a largely happy gathering, but Bob remains remote as he struggles to hide his addictions to alcohol and drugs. This scene would have benefited if readers could have heard more from Bob directly. Without such information, the portrayals of the boys sometimes amount to little more than lightly sketched case studies.
An intriguing glimpse into a foster parent’s life that falls short of helping readers understand its young subjects.