Vol. 15, No. 1 • November 2010

Books on the Nightstand

by Joe and Becky Burmester

In the evolution of our family, Becky continues to read a great deal, but in her pursuit of an RN, she is frequently consumed by topics on nursing and medicine. These topics are certainly applicable to fostering, but not necessarily of general interest. While Joe is not as prolific in his reading, he now has more time to prepare reviews than Becky. As a result, we are sharing the “byline” and trust that our collective thoughts and comments will help you use your valuable reading time to best advantage.

This time round we offer three books for your consideration, each offering a different perspective and all worth your investment of time.

Help! I’ve Been Adopted
This book by Brenda McCreight speaks directly to kids who have been or are about to be adopted. Dr. McCreight identifies real topics that kids have to address when they move from the state of foster children to the permanence of adoption. While it may have been a child’s desire to be adopted, the reality of adoption brings with it confusing feelings and scary questions not previously understood. They now face such questions as “why do kids get adopted?”, “why do I feel grief and loss?”, “what is this attachment thing?” and “how do we adjust?” The book identifies specific questions that a child might ask (or want to ask) on each topic, along with an example of how a “real” person dealt with the issues in his or her own situation.

This would be an outstanding resource for a newly adopted child, but also for the family members who need to understand what their new child or sibling is feeling, and how they might help them through the transition. I think it would also be helpful to foster parents so we can assist our children who may be approaching adoption, whether into a new family or our own. As Dr. McCreight explains, and the examples illustrate, the fact that someone has done well as your foster child doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy transition to becoming your adopted child.

The book is well written and only 83 pages long. Its topical nature would allow you to stop reading when it’s time for you to place it on the nightstand and go to sleep—go ahead, try to stop!

Growing Up in the Care of Strangers
Compiled and edited by Waln K. Brown and John R. Seita, this was a tough book for me to read. It is a collection of the personal stories of 11 former foster kids, each written in the first person. It was hard not because it was irrelevant or poorly written. On the contrary, I found it difficult because it was so personal that it both frightened and angered me. No child should have to endure the situations in which these children found themselves, nor should the foster care system that is intended to save and assist them respond in such an arbitrary manner. The good news is that, despite the trauma they faced and the subsequent failures of the foster care system, these children all survived, eventually thrived and are now contributing solutions to assist other children.

The 11 contributors describe their childhood, how they came into care, how they eventually grew into productive adults, and how they are now working to improve the foster care system that frequently failed them. Despite experiencing every type of abuse and neglect, and bouncing from family to family, these children are now all college-educated professionals. Admittedly, they are not a random sample of children from the foster care system, but they were selected to share their stories because they have survived and can now provide insights to improve that system. Each of these amazing individuals knows more about the practical impact of the foster care system on children than most of the professionals within the system who have not experienced being a recipient of services.

While the target audience for this book is child welfare professionals and youth in placement, foster parents and others associated with children need to understand the impact they have on children in care. These stories make that impact clear. There were a few (not many) conclusions and recommendations from the contributors with which I disagreed. But the positive result was that I had to actually think about those conclusions, rather than simply carry on with no understanding of the impact on children.

Perhaps this won’t be as difficult for you to read as it was for me, but I’m glad I read it. These are certainly inspirational lives, and this book is an important contribution to the appropriate understanding of anyone who cares about children in foster care. It should be required reading for the professionals who establish policy and those of us who provide services to children. The book is 175 pages long—bring a box of tissues.

We Are All Welcome Here
Some of you may read this book and wonder why it’s included on a list for foster parents. It’s not about foster children or adoption. But it’s such a wonderful story about a mother and her child, living through hard times and learning difficult lessons about other people, that I hope you’ll take the time to read it. Actually I listened to this one on CD while driving across country—approximately 6 hours—an excellent way to enjoy a long drive.

Based on a true story, Elizabeth Berg has captured the feelings and experiences of a young girl born of an invalid mother, living in poverty, and learning the ugly truths of racism and prejudice. Yet this young girl ends up receiving an extraordinary gift that may not have been given to her in other circumstances. A beautiful and inspiring story, I am able to rationalize it as appropriate for foster parents because, after all, despite the “foster” in front of our titles, we are still the parents of these children. The lessons we provide to our children will last a lifetime, and the gifts we receive from them will encourage us to continue through the difficulties of parenting.

Becky’s Note
These are all excellent resources. Growing Up With Strangers further emphasizes the importance of connections and the very real fact that young people who age out of care in our homes very much need to remain a part of our families. I have not yet read this entire book but have read several of the stories and the fact that they are difficult to read is the very reason that we need to read them.

In Closing
As I finish this column, Becky has fallen asleep with a 15 pound text book. I think I got the better part of this deal! Tell us what’s on your nightstand and share what you are reading. Call us at 919/870-9968 or send e-mail to [email protected].

Copyright 2010 Jordan Institute for Families