Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Intimate Life of American Foster Care

by Cris Beam

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-15-101412-5
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Journalist Beam examines what is needed to improve the way we care for troubled families and children.

In 2001, as a high school teacher, the author was able to provide a home for her 17-year-old transgender student. Prompted by this experience, she went on to spend five years exploring the contradictions within the child welfare system, seeking to find out why the 500,000 kids in American foster care were “twice as likely to develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder" as combat veterans. Following the lives of foster children, meeting their natural and foster parents, and interviewing experts, Beam developed a broad overview. Intended to be a temporary arrangement, foster care frequently fails to lead either to resolution of the biological parents' problems and restoration of the birth family or to the children's permanent adoption into a new home. The most common causes for failure are birth mothers' reluctance to sign adoption papers, foster parents' inability to manage disturbed children and abusive foster homes. Child-protection workers are poorly paid, overworked and undertrained, Beam notes. They can be charged with criminal neglect for not removing endangered children from their homes, but sometimes they remove children unnecessarily (e.g., on suspicion of a parent's drug use or neglect). Beam attributes some of the unnecessary removal cases to racial bias, and she reports instances of biological parents reappearing on the scene when foster parents were in the process of adopting children and of teenagers, adopted by foster parents, who ran away to their birth parents. Despite such problems, the author is optimistic that progress can be made by addressing the problems of impoverished families and providing “better schools, better libraries, after-school care, neighborhood resources—anything that touches social reform touches foster care too.”

An engrossing, well-researched examination of important social issues.