A book review of:
Growing Up in the Care of Strangers
Waln K. Brown and John R. Sieta, contributors and editors
William Gladden Foundation Press, 2009
Reviewed by Mark Freado
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The editors of this book, Waln Brown and John Sieta, are well known to many of our colleagues in the reclaiming youth network. They have compiled a very compelling collection of stories from others who have shared experiences in the foster care system. Brown and Sieta also contributed their own stories to the nine others that make up this book. Foster care is used in a general sense in this book and includes various ways that publicly established systems of care approached services for these children who had been displaced or were in danger.
The contributing authors represent two generations of individuals who lived through the abuse and/or neglect of their biological families and in various ways the abuse, neglect or inadequacies of our systems established to care for children and youth in our country. The authors are also diverse in gender, race and education. Each author provides a concise summary of their recollections, perceptions, cautions and challenges from their own unique history.
It should be noted that this book is a wonderful testimony to the power of resilience or invulnerability in young people traversing and surviving the crevasses in their lives caused by the absence of immediately available adults who could let them know they were loved, safe and capable. As each chapter is read we are reminded that many of the youth we work with in our schools, foster homes, residential and correctional programs and mental health services have all have a story that is unique to them and all have those same needs right now.
Some of the stories in this book tell us about how life was nearly as lonely and harsh in the system of care as it was in the settings they shared with their biological families. Others tell us that the system of care was providing for them in ways that allowed them to thrive only to be sent back,without warning or explanation, to family circumstances that quickly deteriorated to previous levels of danger. Others write about the positive impact of individuals who may pass through their lives only briefly and, as they do, provide sincere personal attention, examples of how things could be, and spiritual nourishment.
The reader of this book might be moved to look around to see what part of the system of care they may be able to infuse with some enlightenment about the needs of young people, the effects of various types of trauma and allowing the voices of those we serve to be heard. This book provides some specific advice and provokes creative thinking about how the foster care system can be improved. Among the consistent themes is the impact of frequent and abrupt movement through placements, the need for consistent oversight of services to each child in care, our responsibility to prepare youth to take the next steps in to young adulthood rather than leaving them at the curb when they age out of the system, and including the experience and wisdom of those who have lived in and through these systems in planning and execution of services.
With appreciation to all of the contributors, I recommend this book to our colleagues throughout the systems of care.
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