For this eye-opening look at how America cares for its abused and neglected children, Toth traveled to foster-care homes, orphanages, and juvenile detention centers to record the poignant, often heroic voices of youngsters trying to survive in an overburdened system.
Reader, beware: Jennifer Toth's Orphans of the Living
a happy book. In fact, it would be difficult to find a more depressing subject than the current state of foster care in the United States. Nevertheless, in an age plagued by drastic governmental cut-backs on social programs--a time in which women and children are by far the most numerous victims of poverty--the fate of foster children is an important, if painful, subject. Toth's report from the frontlines of what is known as "substitute care" is not encouraging; as she follows the lives of five young people as they move through the system--from Damien, a rape victim at age 8 who becomes a sexual predator by age 13, to Bryan, who struggles to benefit from one of the country's best foster programs--Toth's subjects are as heartbreaking as their success is improbable. Toth has wisely put a human face on the child welfare system's carnage.
Make no mistake, Jennifer Toth is angry. She has faith in every child's ability to be rehabilitated, no matter how damaged, but blames the current foster care system for inflicting still more hurt on its hapless charges. Her book is strongest in chronicling the outrageous breakdowns in a system meant to help, not hurt. So relentless is the misery outlined in Orphans of the Living that by the book's end one wishes Toth had given the reader some crumbs of hope by proposing concrete ways in which the system might be improved.