non-fiction Friday: To the End of June, the intimate life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam

end of june

To the End of June: the intimate life of American foster care by author, professor, and teacher at a women’s correctional facility Cris Beam is a harrowing look into the current state of the foster care system in America. Annually, nearly 650,000 children from birth to age 18 are in foster care. Let me put it this way: the population of Washington, DC is around 632,000. All of the foster children in America could fit into DC. That is horrific.

Beam uses her book to describe the bleak reality of foster care – from parents not working to get their children back, abuse from foster families, low budgets and staffing for Family Services departments, etc. People want babies – and are willing to endure international policies and extravagant court costs to get them – but won’t go through half of that effort (and significantly less cost) to give a forever home to older children or teenagers.

Maybe foster care agencies could do more recruiting among the parents who are looking to adopt privately or overseas and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got kids right here.’…there’s a chance – but if a mom takes her baby back, you’ve provided a young person with a vital foundation. It sounds terrible, but if you lose that baby you could try again. It sounds terrible, but that sounds a lot like pregnancy. Or like love.

Foster Care isn’t easy, and Beam absolutely makes sure that her readers are aware of that. She doesn’t paint pictures of unicorns and rainbows. But she does give great advice for those who are considering or are struggling with their foster children. She quotes Francine Cournos – former foster child and former deputy director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute:

Right up front we need a more therapeutic foster care model in which parents are trained to understand that when kids come to them they’re going to be distrustful, cut off, and too traumatized to make an attachment.

But it will be worth it! Giving a safe, loving, comfortable home and living situation to a young person whose past has been fraught with pain, anger, neglect, and/or sadness, could mean the difference in that young person becoming a stable member of society, or one that falls into a poor mental and/or emotional state, life of crime, homelessness, or worse. Because that is the reality.

Mary Keane, an adoptive mother who runs foster parenting training and recruitment classes in New York said that foster care, but definition, means personal sacrifice:

Parents should do [foster care] because the kids need it. Otherwise they’re going to be disappointed. You do it because you want to help a kid and because you enjoy seeing them grow. The gratitude for what you’ve done might come later. Like after 5 years of Hell.

While that may sound like nothing you’d ever want to get involved in, plenty of adults (single or married) are drawn to help. Not for the financial return they get from the state for housing and taking care of a foster child. That amount is abysmal. It’s about the desire to help.

If you’re interested in learning facts, without personal agendas being shoved down your throat, read Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. The Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist researched the heck out of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of Memorial Hospital. But it wasn’t just the physical structure that failed, but the emergency preparedness of the staff who couldn’t save everyone.

Recommended for:
I implore you to read this book if foster care or domestic adoption is on your mind. Even if you’re just moved by the Wednesday’s Child commercials you see on TV or by the South Korean pastor-turned-orphanage director Lee Jong-rak who created the baby Drop Box.

I attended a foster care and adoption information session last night in Fairfax County. Adoption has been in my heart for many years – even those teen and young adult years when I was convinced I’d never have children due to my complete lack of patience and tenderness – so attending the session was just to get a little information. I have never considered foster care because I was (am) afraid of loving someone, then having them taken from me. Then again, when they leave, chances are they’d be going back to their birth families (good!) or an adoptive home (unless I chose to adopt them). So that’d be a positive move! Regardless, the option has been tabled for now, as my husband and I are no where near ready for such a life-altering task.

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