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The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care

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IIn 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, IIn 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, religion, and politics that shape America’s child-welfare system. The Lost Children of Wilder gives us the galvanizing history of this landmark case and the personal story at its core. Nina Bernstein takes us behind the scenes of far-reaching legal and legislative battles, but she also traces the life of Shirley Wilder and her son, Lamont, born when Shirley was only fourteen and relinquished to the very system being challenged in her name. Bernstein’s account of Shirley and Lamont’s struggles captures the heartbreaking consequences of the child welfare system’s best intentions and deepest flaws. In the tradition of There Are No Children Here, this is a major achievement of investigative journalism and a tour de force of social observation, a gripping book that will haunt every reader who cares about the needs of children.


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IIn 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, IIn 1973, a young ACLU attorney filed a controversial class-action lawsuit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, religion, and politics that shape America’s child-welfare system. The Lost Children of Wilder gives us the galvanizing history of this landmark case and the personal story at its core. Nina Bernstein takes us behind the scenes of far-reaching legal and legislative battles, but she also traces the life of Shirley Wilder and her son, Lamont, born when Shirley was only fourteen and relinquished to the very system being challenged in her name. Bernstein’s account of Shirley and Lamont’s struggles captures the heartbreaking consequences of the child welfare system’s best intentions and deepest flaws. In the tradition of There Are No Children Here, this is a major achievement of investigative journalism and a tour de force of social observation, a gripping book that will haunt every reader who cares about the needs of children.

30 review for The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This is one of the most affecting books I've read in the past couple of years. It's written by a journalist who follows the course of a 1973 test case filed by the ACLU challenging the administration of foster care in New York City. Bernstein interweaves the ensuing decades of legal and agency maneuvering with the story of the Wilder for whom the lawsuit was named: a young girl who is not so much failed as she is brutalized by the foster care system. Burnstein does an excellent job of tying her This is one of the most affecting books I've read in the past couple of years. It's written by a journalist who follows the course of a 1973 test case filed by the ACLU challenging the administration of foster care in New York City. Bernstein interweaves the ensuing decades of legal and agency maneuvering with the story of the Wilder for whom the lawsuit was named: a young girl who is not so much failed as she is brutalized by the foster care system. Burnstein does an excellent job of tying her policy narrative to the personal stories of Shirley Wilder and the son she bears at fourteen, who also grows up at the mercy of our mangled child welfare system. Bernstein convincingly and sympathetically portrays involved parties as being overwhelmingly concerned with the welfare of children, most trying as hard as they could to do what they believed was best for kids in care. The horrifying result of these efforts -- often at cross purposes -- makes up the tragedy at the heart of this book. Bernstein shows how armies of compassionate social workers, public interest lawyers, agency administrators, judges, and potential adoptive parents somehow paved the road with their good intentions to a hellishly malfunctioning system that seriously damaged the children it was charged to help. Years of reform resemble a drunk's attempt to trim a friend's hair: too much off the right side... gotta take more off the left... oops! More off the right... This insight -- that there are not always bad guys, and that terrible consequences can develop from fine, decent people's most noble efforts -- is one of the few useful ones I've gained from my years in social work school. That might sound obvious, but the truth is that it's all too easy and common to oversimplify and assign blame for system failures and social problems, especially when you're exhausted by your role in the midst of them. This book reveals the overwhelming and heartbreaking complexity of barriers to repairing the foster care system. This is a cautionary tale for anyone who hopes to effect positive changes, be it in policy or in individuals' lives. I think pretty much everyone would be better off for having read this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shana

    I'm a child welfare caseworker, so when I picked this book up off of the "Books We Like" shelf at the library and read the title, I thought "The struggle to CHANGE foster care? You mean, it used to be even worse????" Of course, when I actually read the book, I discovered that, wouldn't you know it, the child welfare system hasn't improved much in the past 40 years. This is a really fascinating book that not only explores a landmark lawsuit in the New York City on behalf of foster children but pa I'm a child welfare caseworker, so when I picked this book up off of the "Books We Like" shelf at the library and read the title, I thought "The struggle to CHANGE foster care? You mean, it used to be even worse????" Of course, when I actually read the book, I discovered that, wouldn't you know it, the child welfare system hasn't improved much in the past 40 years. This is a really fascinating book that not only explores a landmark lawsuit in the New York City on behalf of foster children but parallels that story with an account of the lives if the lead plaintiff, Shirley Wilder, and her son, Lamont, both of whom grow up in foster care. As you read the ridiculous machinations of the legal and political systems that impact foster care in this country, the story is interspersed with the actual stories of these two real people who are suffering in an under resourced, underfunded and often inept system. On page 269, the lead attorney "brooded about the disregard for children endemic in a system where adults had rights and children had only 'needs' and 'interests.'" That pretty much hits in the nail on the head. Of course, she's thinking this in 1982, so it's a good thing that it's still completely true today. Lamont's story of growing up in foster care is a story that could easily happen today. The many placements, the lack of matching prospective parents with his needs, the lack of long term planning by caseworkers, the high turnover among caseworkers, the "discharge to own responsibility" with pretty much no help whatsoever upon reaching the age of majority...yes, all of these things that happened to Lamont in the 70's and 80's are continuing to happen to real kids RIGHT NOW. In 2012. Yes, it seems for years and years, everyone has agreed that "foster care drift" is bad (page 113). Even 40 years ago, "permanency" was the popular buzzword among child welfare professionals(pg 193) and it was well known that bouncing around foster care did a lot of damage to kids and wasted public funds. In the case of Lamont, his mother was allowed to disappear for years and her rights were only terminated after he had been allowed to spend his formative early childhood years in foster care and was heading towards an age when he was a lot less likely to be adopted. Surely that doesn't happen in 2012! We MUST have fixed that right? Oh wait, it does happen! All the time!!!!! In 1974, there were various bureaucratic snafus, such as case files that were "typically chaotic, bulging assemblages of outdated information that could take hours just to sort chronologically" (pg 114). Of course, now we do now have electronic records on a very poorly written and poorly functioning computer program that you can't upload any written documents into, thus necessitating a paper file, that things often disappear from. I hope that sets your mind at ease. Now here's a really great quote: "Fifty thousand cases of the most sensitive kind are called before the city's family courts each year. The courts are overcrowded, the waiting rooms are terrible places, each case involves a minimum of three to four people, not counting lawyers and court personnel, and they sit there all day with no notification of when their cases will be called...Two to Three million people in this city have passed through these courts, more than a hundred thousand last year, and every one of them has left with a terrible impression of the law, of the judges." Could this definitely describe ALL of my juvenile court experiences at my current job? Even in 2012??? Why yes!!! Is it supposed to be about juvenile court in this century? No, it's a description of juvenile courts in the 1970's. Again, I'm just super impressed with how much things have changed. Here's another great quote. This one is from a juvenile court judge (Justine Wise Polier) now deceased, who was on the bench in the 1930's through the 1970's. "We demand of poor people in this country more than we demand of ourselves...we talk about the importance of the family, the moral values of the family, but we're not willing to provide the underpinnings to which every child is entitled...the self image of a child who feels this parents are not anything, and that nothing good is going to happen to him, is probably the most destructive ethos to which any child can be exposed." Wow, it sounds like she wrote this for the 2012 Democratic Convention! But no, the judge said it in 1984 and was talking about the previous 50 years. I could go on all day about the things this book describes about child welfare in the 70's and 80's that are still happening, that continue to happen day in and day out in 2012. As I read this book, I realized that the important part of the title was "try." Yes, some of the people in this book TRIED to change foster care. They tried to change child welfare. But really, precious little has changed. There are thousands and thousands of Lamonts and Shirleys out there right now. This book was disheartening and frustrating to read, but it was also inspirational. There are people out there who do care about one of the most vulnerable and least cared for groups in America: kids involved with the child welfare system. Just like there are thousands of Lamonts out there, there are thousands of people from various professions who care about those kids, who know that what they do is important and who will not stop trying to make a difference in the child welfare system, no matter what the obstacles. This book (and, okay, the past several years of my career) has really made me consider what I can do to get into child welfare policy work. This book reminded me about why I do what I do all day, about what some of my clients have been through or are going through. It has reminded me to be a more empathetic professional. Lamont's story, and his spirit and resiliency, are truly inspirational. I can't thank Shirley Wilder and Lamont enough for sharing their stories and Nina Bernstein for writing this book that had such as impact on me. I hope everyone who reads this book will work harder to make children a priority in this country. This book should be required reading for all professionals involved in the child welfare system in this country and also for Republicans. This book has earned its spot on my "best books ever" shelf.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Kramer

    There are a dozen books I have been meaning to read for decades, and this is one of them. I recently sold my house where I've been living since 1990 and in the adrenaline surge that followed the sale I decided it was time to read some of those books that never made it to the top of the pile but also never made it into the trash (not that I still don't wince whenever I toss a book, no matter how bad.) But this made it to the top, at last, and now that I've finished it has made it to the top of anot There are a dozen books I have been meaning to read for decades, and this is one of them. I recently sold my house where I've been living since 1990 and in the adrenaline surge that followed the sale I decided it was time to read some of those books that never made it to the top of the pile but also never made it into the trash (not that I still don't wince whenever I toss a book, no matter how bad.) But this made it to the top, at last, and now that I've finished it has made it to the top of another list, that of the finest books I've ever read. Nina Bernstein, a distinguished NYTimes reporter, tells the story of a case, brought by a young, female ACLU lawyer in the early 70's, that in the name of one Shirley Wilder challenged the "private", "faith-based" (I use these quotation marks very intentionally) foster care services provided by the city of New York. These agencies answered to no one, despite receiving as much as ninety percent of their funding from taxpayers. Then in comes the young lawyer, Marcia Lowry, who noticed that black children were, in every instance, being denied access to decent services and potential loving homes. This realization, and the lawsuit that grew from it, brought her up against the most powerful institutions in New York, who, in the name of their own goodness and charity, were also always working to maintain racism. The Great Migration of Southern blacks to the North, detailed in THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, managed to shift the focus of hatred and denial from ethnic groups (those Irish! those Jews!) to racial groups (read: blacks).This is a story -- an epic -- that shows how power really works, and how it cynically, uncaringly nourishes itself on the the most deprived members of society. The case went on for decades, and was never fully won; even when a settlement was reached with the city, the city didn't bother to put the settlement's terms into effect. It's a book about hopelessness, yes, but also a tale of the corners where hope hides, and waits, and every so often emerges. And in case I make it sound dry and "legal", it's the opposite; a superb piece of reporting that is also intensely dramatic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chrisiant

    This was one hell of a book to read. It is so well written - seamless transitions between discussion of the progress of the legal cases and the stories of the foster children's daily experience as the cases dragged on. The way the important dates in the case line up with critical changes in the lives of Shirley Wilder, and then Lamont Wilder, is an amazing illustration of how these abstract laws are affecting real humans throughout the long drawn-out court battles over them. At times it was phys This was one hell of a book to read. It is so well written - seamless transitions between discussion of the progress of the legal cases and the stories of the foster children's daily experience as the cases dragged on. The way the important dates in the case line up with critical changes in the lives of Shirley Wilder, and then Lamont Wilder, is an amazing illustration of how these abstract laws are affecting real humans throughout the long drawn-out court battles over them. At times it was physically painful to read, and I had to put it down for a little while or risk getting lost in it. Shirley Wilder (the lead plaintiff) is 13 and two years into being bounced around the hell of New York City foster care when the "Wilder" case begins in 1973. She has a child at 14, Lamont, who also enters the foster care system and goes through multiple 'disrupted' placements and group homes before aging out of the system. He fathers a child at age 20, and a few years after that, his now crack-addicted mother dies of AIDS in a hospice shelter. The court case finishes four days after her death, after 26 years of litigation. This is not a good read for anyone with a weak tolerance for hearing about the horrors our society perpetrates on the poor and defenseless: it carves them out in stark relief. It also serves as a great example of just how long it can take and how difficult it can be to really remedy injustice through the American court system. There are bits of hopefulness, in particular all the people who worked tirelessly on this case and variations of it, the "good guys" at the children's shelters and family court and all those who tried to make the system work for these children. It will take some time for me to recover from reading this book, but it has inspired me to do further research and reading on this topic and despite it all, I feel better for knowing what this book taught me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    very very slow read, but very very good. i've read 2 books while reading this one. i love this book and there are moments when i can't put it down but then there are many others moments where i find my mind wandering. it's a documentary almost... and it's loooooong. but i suggest reading it to anyone who has a heart for children, especially children in great need.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is without a doubt one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read. It's about race and poverty and child welfare in NYC but it's much broader than just that. I couldn't put it down.

  7. 5 out of 5

    PG Pariseau

    Fascinating, infuriating, depressing, and brutally honest. The litigation is not that well-chronicled, but then the lawyers who were the sources had a lot of mis-, mal-, and non-feasance to cover up. The life stories of the subjects of the litigation ring sadly true and they are far more unsparing of themselves than are the professionals who claimed to want to rescue them and did so little to offer insightful help. And of course foster care, child crisis care in general, is still abysmal in this Fascinating, infuriating, depressing, and brutally honest. The litigation is not that well-chronicled, but then the lawyers who were the sources had a lot of mis-, mal-, and non-feasance to cover up. The life stories of the subjects of the litigation ring sadly true and they are far more unsparing of themselves than are the professionals who claimed to want to rescue them and did so little to offer insightful help. And of course foster care, child crisis care in general, is still abysmal in this country.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Dueholm

    This book was not an easy read for me. Having intersected with the foster care system in a different time and place, I found parts of it quite strange and shocking and other parts quite familiar (and also shocking). Anyway it's a very important book about an under-recorded aspect of our history, namely the treatment of children and poor families who get caught in the child welfare system.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy L

    Eye opening This history shows the interrelationship of poverty, the child welfare system, and systemic racism. So many of the solutions proposed are proposed by people who have no understanding of the real ptoblems. This book can help teach you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Garett

    Thoroughly details the policy history of the New York adoption and foster care systems, while providing a case study of a mother and child in the system. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick it through to the end. Will give it another shot, some day.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Donia

    A great read and heart rending.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Sotnick

    One of the densest books I’ve ever read, but that left room for all the buckets of nuance ! finally finished reading, with chills

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    This book is an example of what happens when an author is so up her own colon trying to promote a particular view of social justice that the obvious if complicated nature of what she is trying to write get lost under the detail of generational patterns of failure. Coming squarely out of the leftist tradition of the press, this book seeks to serve as a case study approach of an immensely complicated and multi-generational set of court cases known as the Wilder case, which exposed the fault lines This book is an example of what happens when an author is so up her own colon trying to promote a particular view of social justice that the obvious if complicated nature of what she is trying to write get lost under the detail of generational patterns of failure. Coming squarely out of the leftist tradition of the press, this book seeks to serve as a case study approach of an immensely complicated and multi-generational set of court cases known as the Wilder case, which exposed the fault lines of the foster care system in New York City. This book was part of our gloomy book of the month club reading for CASA [1] and it fits pretty strongly within that genre of writing, being long (at almost 450 pages of core text) and as downcast as it is possible for a piece of journalism to be. If the author were not so resolutely pro-ACLU and so favorable to other socialists of that ilk, some of whom spend this book involved in disputes with other disreputable socialists and statists and others of that kind, this book may have been less depressing despite its material. As it is, the author chose a case that perfectly models the failures of the socialist and anti-religious mindset and manages to do nothing with it except argue for wealth redistribution as a solution to the moral failings discussed here. The contents of this book are organized more or less chronologically. We follow a troubled black girl, pregnant with a child and the survivor of rape and incest as she gives up her child to the tender mercies of public care and grows up scarred before losing her life to AIDS after a wasted life of shallow relationships and drug addiction, follow the life of that child, Lamont, as he too is chewed up and spewed out by that same system and has his own illegitimate child from a broken relationship and himself gets caught up in the system in turn. We see radical social reformers grow old and die and feel their life is wasted as a city deals with intractable problems where generational patterns of sin--specifically addictions, promiscuity, abuse and neglect--interact with larger scale social sins relating to racism and economic injustice in the face of scarce attention and resources to lead to mind-numblingly repetitive tragedies for those families who get caught up in the foster care system. New York is hardly alone in this problem--this book manages to go, briefly, to Minnesota where we see the same processes at work. We see judges and lawyers and social reformers argue over settlements and try to preserve or build political coalitions in the midst of a social contract that is unwilling to make any care for able-bodies indigents more pleasant than the least pleasant work would be, a social contract that the author hates but does her best to acknowledge, however grudgingly. The end result is a depressing picture of the glacial to non-existent pace of social improvement in the face of intractable problems of sin that the author simply cannot label for what they are. In the end, the author is left arguing for fundamental social change while having provided more than enough evidence to show the complete and utter incapability of the public sector to provide meaningful care or oversight of what it already has and failed to take responsibility for. The horrors one reads about the state of the foster care system in New York are not limited to that area alone. Anyone who has a familiarity with its analogous forms in other parts of our nation will find much in here that they understand rather grimly, and those of us who, by some sort of near miracle, avoided being caught up within the system's grasp over the course of our own tragic childhood will find much to puzzle over and muse about. Despite the author's failures due to her defective moral and political worldviews, this book does provide a sufficiently robust case study that those with more accurate worldviews will see the way in which the sins of fathers and mothers are visited on their children to the third and the fourth generation. What one does not see is repentance and many examples of people owning up to their own lives and to their failures to live up to the moral standards that make improvement in life possible. Instead, we see a lot of blaming, a lot of excuses, and calls for scarce resources to bankroll and subsidize failure generation after generation, where even the names of lead plaintiffs don't even change from one generation to the next in a broken system designed to help mitigate the damage of broken families. The children involved may deserve better, but no one can give it to them. [1] See for example: https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016... https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016...

  14. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    An absolute must read for anyone interested in working with foster care in any capacity. Heart wrenching.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    In this book, one dedicated journalist traces the life of Shirley Wilder, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against New York City's foster-care system that has been going on now for almost 40 years. The story is heartbreaking and well-told, and should serve as a tale of caution for all those who seek to litigate America's problems away. The book shifts back and forth between the hellish demimonde inhabited by Wilder and her son Lamont, and the world of public interest litigation inhabi In this book, one dedicated journalist traces the life of Shirley Wilder, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against New York City's foster-care system that has been going on now for almost 40 years. The story is heartbreaking and well-told, and should serve as a tale of caution for all those who seek to litigate America's problems away. The book shifts back and forth between the hellish demimonde inhabited by Wilder and her son Lamont, and the world of public interest litigation inhabited by Marcia Lowry, the ACLU lawyer who pursued the Wilder lawsuit for most of her professional career. The Wilders' story is all too familiar from books like "There Are No Children Here" and "The Promised Land." Shirley Wilder is shuttled between different institutions, psychiatric wards, schools, and ghetto foster homes, only to get caught up in the crack and AIDs epidemic in her later years. Her son struggles to find a family even as Shirley is still struggling to find her own, and he is forced to undergo many of the same indignities that Shirley endured despite her best hopes. The never-ending chaos of their lives can become slightly numbing at a point. I found the political legal side to be more clearly written and interesting. There are an infinite of little telling episodes in these sections. For example, white-shoe law firms who had worked for years for the private religious organizations that profited from city "orphan" payments immediately dropped almost anyone associated with Lowry's suit. Also, after a surge in black adoptions by white families in the 1960s, a black social worker at a 1972 St. Louis conference announced that such adoptions amounted to "cultural genocide" and inter-racial adoptions became suddenly taboo. Class action suits against NYC had become so pervasive by the 2000s that Shirley's son was asked to join one class-action against the city, while her grandson became a named plaintiff in a suit against the city's welfare practices, in both cases without the lawyers having any knowledge of their connection to the original Shirley Wilder. This is an impressive book which intimately describes the actual operation of consent decrees so well documented in more academic books like "Democracy by Decree." It also leaves one without any ready solutions for one of New York City's most shameful aspects.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Lewis

    This epic book by journalist Bernstein is basically a case study of the landmark Wilder case that attempted to overhaul the care of foster children in the state of New York. The case, which took over two decades to resolve, sadly didn't achieve the intended effect. However, tracking the case over the years and considering the context of those years provides a very interesting picture of a hugely problematic issue, which is inextricably interwoven with racism and poverty. What made this fairly sc This epic book by journalist Bernstein is basically a case study of the landmark Wilder case that attempted to overhaul the care of foster children in the state of New York. The case, which took over two decades to resolve, sadly didn't achieve the intended effect. However, tracking the case over the years and considering the context of those years provides a very interesting picture of a hugely problematic issue, which is inextricably interwoven with racism and poverty. What made this fairly scholarly book readable was the way it alternated between chapters of legal history and chapters that told the story of the namesake of the case, Shirley Wilder, and her son Lamont, who was also raised in and out of foster care and institutions. The story makes it clear that these are people of intelligence, strength and resilience, but who are in a system that is so broken, in a society that is so broken...the only word that can express it is heartbreaking. Part of me wonders how much things have changed in the 10 years or so since the time where the book left off. And how much are things the same or different in other parts of the country? But part of me kind of doesn't want to know. It is too sad and overwhelming.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Klaudyna Z.

    This book was very disturbing to read at times. I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the things that happen in this world, especially to kids. I thought the book was well written but all of the stuff about the legal Wilder case was very dry and there was almost too much legalese to be able to understand it all. I skipped through some of those parts. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't more written about Shirley Wilder and what she went through her life. There was a br This book was very disturbing to read at times. I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the things that happen in this world, especially to kids. I thought the book was well written but all of the stuff about the legal Wilder case was very dry and there was almost too much legalese to be able to understand it all. I skipped through some of those parts. I was also a little disappointed that there wasn't more written about Shirley Wilder and what she went through her life. There was a brief overview at the end but I though that there should have been more throughout the whole book, especially considering the Wilder case all started because of her and was named after her. I was pleased to learn about Lamont turning out to be pretty good guy, despite what he went through as a child and that he didn't succumb to drugs and violence. I was sad to read that he was still very affected by poverty. Overall the book was very sad and disturbing to read and it's horrible to think that there are people who are dealing with these issues on a day to day basis.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Before this book was recommended, I had never really thought about the foster care system much. I had read accounts here and there and knew enough to realize that the system needed a revamp and had much to be desired. In this book, Nina Bernstein wrote an incredibly detailed account of the Wilder case, which set out to revamp the foster care system that for some time had/has serious issues. She interweaves the history of the case with the story of Shirley Wilder, the young girl who the case is n Before this book was recommended, I had never really thought about the foster care system much. I had read accounts here and there and knew enough to realize that the system needed a revamp and had much to be desired. In this book, Nina Bernstein wrote an incredibly detailed account of the Wilder case, which set out to revamp the foster care system that for some time had/has serious issues. She interweaves the history of the case with the story of Shirley Wilder, the young girl who the case is named for, and her son Lamont, who also happened to be lost to the foster care system. Bernstein manages to give a history of everyone and all settings involved. Wonderfully detailed and incredibly heart-wrenching, this book invokes lots of emotions - anger, sadness and disbelief that a system that was implemented to help children in need managed to harm them. If you are even remotely interested in civil rights, minority rights,children's rights, economic and social justice, this book is for you. I highly recommend it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    The story of a landmark legal case in foster care, "The Lost Children of Wilder" is a grueling read, both in its subject matter and its content. The laborious and involved court case is not exactly explained with the greatest clarity and characters are sometimes indistinctly drawn. But the other side of this book is a stark contrast: Bernstein sensitively and honestly captures the real human figures caught up in the bloody mess of the foster system, never sugarcoating their (sometimes horrifying The story of a landmark legal case in foster care, "The Lost Children of Wilder" is a grueling read, both in its subject matter and its content. The laborious and involved court case is not exactly explained with the greatest clarity and characters are sometimes indistinctly drawn. But the other side of this book is a stark contrast: Bernstein sensitively and honestly captures the real human figures caught up in the bloody mess of the foster system, never sugarcoating their (sometimes horrifying) faults, but always recording their lives, good and very, very bad, with unflinching honesty. Nor are the people on the other side of the system excused or demonized. This balance drives home the complexity of welfare and foster care issues, issues that don't have a simple silver-bullet answer. I didn't enjoy this book; it's too ponderous and too raw, but I am glad that I read it, because its story is an important one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Guera25

    This is not a case study, but rather a mishmash of biography and scathing indictment of a broken child welfare system. It follows the lives of Shirley Wilder, her son, Lamont, and Marcia Lowry, the dogged attorney who spent twenty-six years trying to reform the system through a grinding series of class-action lawsuits, and unflinchingly documents the abuses and gross failures inflicted upon many of the children who fall under its purview. It's not easy reading, but it feels oddly insubstantial gi This is not a case study, but rather a mishmash of biography and scathing indictment of a broken child welfare system. It follows the lives of Shirley Wilder, her son, Lamont, and Marcia Lowry, the dogged attorney who spent twenty-six years trying to reform the system through a grinding series of class-action lawsuits, and unflinchingly documents the abuses and gross failures inflicted upon many of the children who fall under its purview. It's not easy reading, but it feels oddly insubstantial given its subject matter, as though it were a magazine serial stretched into book form through the squalid, sentimental interludes spent purportedly examining Lamont and Shirley's lives after leaving foster care.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Effective, relentless journalism. Nina Bernstein follows a 35-year struggle to change the New York City foster care system, along with the personal life of the lead plaintiff of a class action lawsuit: an abused 13-year-old girl named Shirley Wilder, and the son that she loses after giving birth while in foster care. At times the legalese and the complex cast of characters in the NYC bureaucracy gets heavy, but when the narrative revisits Shirley and her son, the reader sees the human side of th Effective, relentless journalism. Nina Bernstein follows a 35-year struggle to change the New York City foster care system, along with the personal life of the lead plaintiff of a class action lawsuit: an abused 13-year-old girl named Shirley Wilder, and the son that she loses after giving birth while in foster care. At times the legalese and the complex cast of characters in the NYC bureaucracy gets heavy, but when the narrative revisits Shirley and her son, the reader sees the human side of these decisions playing out in courts and the ACLU offices. The book demonstrates perfectly the challenges facing fragile, impoverished families, and the immense struggle to reform a broken system.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Flan

    Gripping journalistic account of a 26-year class-action suit over New York's foster care system. The courts finally settled in favor of the plaintiffs, who had charged that the state's reliance on religious organizations (mainly Catholic and Jewish) to administer foster care programs had led to systematic discrimination against African American children (who were mostly Protestant). The case wasn't settled until 1999, five days after the lead plaintiff died alone in a hospice at the age of 39. T Gripping journalistic account of a 26-year class-action suit over New York's foster care system. The courts finally settled in favor of the plaintiffs, who had charged that the state's reliance on religious organizations (mainly Catholic and Jewish) to administer foster care programs had led to systematic discrimination against African American children (who were mostly Protestant). The case wasn't settled until 1999, five days after the lead plaintiff died alone in a hospice at the age of 39. The book is devastating, and such an effective reminder of the dangers of allowing private charities to take over the responsibilities of the government.

  23. 4 out of 5

    BookstagramETC

    Finally finished this mammoth! Such a good read for understanding a lot of the broader issues with the Foster Care system but after starting this guy over winter break, I didn't finish until summer! (Largely because I was reading other things but...) Sad story but definitely has some funny parts. Can be dry but it's explaining a legal case that stretched out over two decades (and three generations) and the author definitely works hard to keep it interesting/relatable despite the complex nature o Finally finished this mammoth! Such a good read for understanding a lot of the broader issues with the Foster Care system but after starting this guy over winter break, I didn't finish until summer! (Largely because I was reading other things but...) Sad story but definitely has some funny parts. Can be dry but it's explaining a legal case that stretched out over two decades (and three generations) and the author definitely works hard to keep it interesting/relatable despite the complex nature of the politics surrounding Foster Care. Wonderful read but glad I got through it and on to the next!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book was so sad that it was a struggle to keep reading. Shirley and Lamont Wilder's suffering reminded me of Saphire's "The Kid", and I wondered if all foster-care stories are similar or if Saphire had read "The Lost children of Wilder". I was surprised to recognize 2 of the NYC agencies mentioned in the book, The Children's Village, where I volunteered, and The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, which did that horrible twin study that separated 13 twins/triplets from each other, and led to "Iden This book was so sad that it was a struggle to keep reading. Shirley and Lamont Wilder's suffering reminded me of Saphire's "The Kid", and I wondered if all foster-care stories are similar or if Saphire had read "The Lost children of Wilder". I was surprised to recognize 2 of the NYC agencies mentioned in the book, The Children's Village, where I volunteered, and The Louise Wise Adoption Agency, which did that horrible twin study that separated 13 twins/triplets from each other, and led to "Identical Stranger: A Memoir of twins separated and reunited.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Written by a reporter who followed the story for years, this is a powerful account of the New York City foster care system. Although I enjoy reading nonfiction, I usually make my way through it rather slowly; not so with this one. It was hard to put down. Bernstein did an excellent job of weaving together history, law, and personal stories of the children, teenagers, parents, families, lawyers, judges, and social workers whose lives were touched in some way by the Wilder case. A gripping, moving Written by a reporter who followed the story for years, this is a powerful account of the New York City foster care system. Although I enjoy reading nonfiction, I usually make my way through it rather slowly; not so with this one. It was hard to put down. Bernstein did an excellent job of weaving together history, law, and personal stories of the children, teenagers, parents, families, lawyers, judges, and social workers whose lives were touched in some way by the Wilder case. A gripping, moving, and memorable book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Blaine Morrow

    Thoroughly researched account of the Wilder cas in New York, which was intended to reform the child welfare and foster care policies in that city. The book traces both the case and its namesake: Shirley Wilder, a victim of foster care abuse who had a son who also fell into the foster care carousel. The author has done a marvelous job of making statistics and anecdotes real by giving intimate portraits of each protagonist and paying close attention to the aftermath of court decisions, placements, Thoroughly researched account of the Wilder cas in New York, which was intended to reform the child welfare and foster care policies in that city. The book traces both the case and its namesake: Shirley Wilder, a victim of foster care abuse who had a son who also fell into the foster care carousel. The author has done a marvelous job of making statistics and anecdotes real by giving intimate portraits of each protagonist and paying close attention to the aftermath of court decisions, placements, and family upheavals. A book that will haunt its readers.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Incredibly interesting story about foster care in New York City. It was a mix of the personal story of Shirley and Lamont Wilder, two kids in the system over the years, and the long legal struggles spearheaded by Marcia Lowry to try to help kids. The book made you realize just how complicated "fixing" this system is and how heartbreaking it is that it can't be easily fixed for those kids stuck in it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    This book was the utterly depressing story of the legal battles to reform foster care in New York. Bernstein's journalistic style was pretty consistent minus her weak effort to mask her own misguided involvement in the events. She did a fairly good job of maintaining an objective view point. The main lesson I took away from this book is that if you are a religeous charity DON'T take money from the state. It's dancing with the devil and will lead to no good.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Ertuncay

    I wanted to read about experiences of kids in fostercare. This book follows one girl and her family but there is a lot of the legal side of this case. Although the legal side didn't interest me, I read on to follow the character and hear more of her experiences. I think this book will be a good eye opener so you can get a feel of the plight of these children and how their experiences along with poverty effect them as adults.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I was required to read this book for a Child Advocacy course and I was pleasantly surprised! The novel was very engaging from the start and I was so interested in the child policies and the centers that home children who are homeless. I would definitely recommend this to any student or any person who's interested in Child Advocacy however, I do think I would have read this book if I wasn't in my course.

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