The sad truth about the foster care system in the United States is it is literally failing. In fact, it often harms the children it is supposed to be rescuing. Cris Beam wanted to find out why. In the preface of To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, she says,
“I didn’t know how we could be spending billions on foster children in the United States and yet see half of them with chronic medical conditions, 80 percent with serious emotional problems, and then abandon nearly a quarter of them to homelessness by their twenty-first birthdays.”
Over the course of five years, Beam follows several families to obtain a deep picture of what the foster system is like for the people who live in it every day. One couple she gets to know is Bruce and Allyson Green, who live in Brooklyn with three biological children of their own. They end up with a house full of foster children – mostly teenagers – “by a mix of happenstance and hope.” First, New York’s Adminstration of Children’s Services calls them to say that Bruce’s sister’s kids, ages two a four, are being removed from their home. Bruce and Allyson take the boys, and they go to an agency for a foster care license. Later, when their daughter Sekina begs for a baby sister, they decide to start taking in more children.
The Greens start out idealistically, and they seem to have a lot of success as foster parents, at least at first. They form a bond with Tom, the father of one of their foster children. Allen, the child, lucks out because he finds himself with two fathers, for Tom visits him regularly at the Greens’ home, where he plays video games with the kids and enjoys Sunday dinners with the family. When asked who Tom and Bruce are, he calls both men “Daddy.”
Unfortunately, the Greens’ story is also one of heartbreak. One example is Dominque, who enters the home as a seventeen-year-old girl. In one scene, she accidentally admits to Bruce that she loves him, and he triumphantly dances around in the front of the house, singing, “My daughter loves me, my daughter loves me, my daughter says she loves me!”
Three years later, Dominique is no longer with the Greens, and Bruce has hit a “psychological wall.” He says, “I used to think I could save any child who walked through my door, but I can’t. Dominique just wasn’t a fit.”
In addition to telling the personal stories of people like the Greens, Beam addresses how history, politics, sociology, and psychology have shaped the system to become what it is today, and she is clear that the answer to solving the problems in foster care is anything but easy.
In the epilogue, Beams sums up her final theories about the foster care system. She makes three main points:
Beam doesn’t provide solutions to any of these issues, for she says her goal with the book was “to be more descriptive than prescriptive, placing the why above the what next.”
Therefore, if you’re looking for answers about how to fix the system, her book is not the foster care book for you. But if you seek understanding, this book will show you some of the problems our society faces when it comes to the welfare of our children. After you learn more about the why, maybe you can get involved in what next.
To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care
Nonfiction by Cris Beam
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013