"To the End of June" presents an all-encompassing look into the triumphs and failures of the American foster care system. Author Cris Beam, herself a foster mother, spent 5 years investigating the system which includes over 400,000 children in the U.S. She interviews current and former foster families – adults and youths – and couples their narratives with data that represent a deep need for change.
In Manhattan, a mother leaves her sleeping two-year-old daughter in the hallway of her apartment complex. A stroller can’t fit through the hoards of junk cramming the apartment. Yet Beam, a resident of the building, hesitates to make the call to Child Protective Services. She knows there’s not always a safer home or better place for these children.
The premise of foster care is that it is a temporary solution. Still, readers will be alarmed by the back-and-forth placements in a system that has failed to create stability. “About 70 percent of all foster children in this country who have been in care more than two years have moved three or more times,” Beam explains.
The rights of a child’s family are weighed against their ability to parent; and conversely the ability of a foster family to parent is weighed against the regulations - do they meet required square footage to become a foster placement; have they received the appropriate training?
Beam introduces readers to baby Oliver, whose teen mother signed away her parental rights on a napkin to an educated couple that provided Oliver with opportunity. But do good private schools and wealth equate to better parenting? For case workers, there rarely is a clear answer.
The system is supposed to prevent neglect, yet it neglects to provide foster children with the resources to transition into their adulthood. “So many kids grow up in a kind of alternative reality, especially in the group homes - with too much structure and too little love,” Beam says.
And still, “$15 to $20 billion a year are poured into over-seeing their [foster children’s] well-being.” Beam begs the question, why isn’t this system working?
“Perhaps the only universal truth about each foster care program is this: every child within it is different,” she argues.
In a twelve-bedroom Victorian house in Yonkers lives Mary, a warmhearted mother who fosters ten youth in a group style home that blossomed into a makeshift family. In the Bronx reside the Greens, who foster Allen, the HIV positive baby, Dominique, the hard to place one, and Russell, an autistic teenager. Ever dedicated to the well being of the system, the Greens win “foster family of the year” on behalf of their agency.
It’s the call to arms and stories of the compassionate families invested in the foster care system that will leave readers with a tinge of hope for the future of these children. And Beam herself isn’t hopeless either. Progress is happening. States are now eligible to apply for flat-sum waivers from the government, which front-loads money that can be spent on preventative services.
“Work on one small aspect and we’ll be working on the whole,” Beam says. “Anything that touches social reform touches foster care too.”
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care by Cris Beam | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | 352 p.