Beyond The Foster Care System: The Future For Teens, by Betsy Krebs and Paul Pitcoff
I must admit that I found this book deeply interesting. That does not mean that I approved of everything it said, but rather I found it to be interesting in the way that the writers sought to encourage the self-agency of the teens in various group homes and the way that this made the adults themselves feel a bit awkward when the kids took them seriously and began to speak out about the problems of their existence as wards of the state. It should be noted that this book does not make the foster care systems that the authors have to deal with in New York and Pennsylvania look good, even though the authors appear not to have deliberately made those systems look bad. Indeed, the authors note that a key element to the problem is the high level of bureaucracy that is faced by state systems of foster care, and it seems unlikely that any public system in the contemporary age could be anything but bureaucratic, and so the only way for deep reforms to be made would be to require fairly drastic reductions in the power and staffing levels of public agencies, which is likely to be viewed very fiercely by those people involved with such agencies.
This book is about 200 pages long and is divided into eight chapters. After acknowledgements and an introduction the book begins with a look at the first impressions that the authors had of the foster care system through their getting to know Teresa (1). After that, getting to know Carlos allowed the authors to look at the lack of education for foster care teens (2). Meanwhile, the spirited Jenny encouraged the authors and the teens they worked with to look at the rights of teens in the foster care system (3). The struggles of a pregnant teen named Xaranda helped the authors work with the need for discussing policy advocacy with teens (4). The struggles of a young man named Leonard who aged out of the foster care system at 21, as is the tendency, led them to ponder the need to prepare young people for independent living (5). These five case studies and others encouraged the authors to develop self-advocacy seminars to improve the lot of other teens in the system (6), after which the authors discuss the need for informational interviewed to bridge between foster care and the greater community (7). Finally, the authors discuss the predictable resistance they faced in encouraging self-advocacy among the foster care bureaucracy (8), after which the book ends with a conclusion, notes, and index.
If one wanted children who were truly prepared for success as adults, would it not be better to support and encourage families than to make children wards of the state and raise them on the dependency and the rights-oriented (but not responsibility-oriented) ethos of the contemporary entitlement state? The authors’ efforts at teaching shy and inarticulate teens to learn how to read and interpret laws and defend their interests to adults and appeal to the interests of their skeptical audiences are impressive, but on at least one level they are self-defeating in that if such efforts were successful they would ultimately deprive the authors of massive bureaucracies to get grants from and would allow children to be raised to be responsible and articulate in loving families without the involvement of the state in their upbringing. It does appear that the authors are a bit nearsighted in thinking that training teens in the foster care system to have skills in independent living as well as an understanding of their rights and a willingness to demand them will allow a corrupt and bloated bureaucracy that thrives on denying people (including parents) from their God-given rights to survive without massive changes. Nevertheless, if people had to see the implications of their deeds before taking steps from their convictions, people would likely do and write a lot less.