So just like any other destitute children, Shirley’s life became shaped by the inequities that existed in the system. Within a year the plaintiff became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was also relinquished to the same system that had failed his mother. For seventeen years, the case remained in court and very controversial. It is these events that caused the author to want to find out more of what happened to the child and his mother. After numerous inquiries, Bernstein was informed that Shirley had run away and that her son had become one of the many anonymous children whose details are concealed for the purposes of protecting the foster care system from the prying eyes of the public.
The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care, resulted from all these events in which the author wanted to give the public, in full details, of the history of the Wilder case that reflects many racial, political, and religious fault lines in the foster care system of New York, and therefore show the audience of the issues and challenges facing the child welfare systems in many cities. Bernstein makes a lot of efforts to take the audience behind the scenes of the case, and of the far reaching legislative and legal battles that came with the case. In addition, she traces the life of Shirley’s son and the effects and consequences of the failed foster care system on his young life, to show us a grown man who has endured many battles, and as a result has deep emotional wounds inflicted to him by his circumstances, and his yearning for family. In recounting and revisiting these events, the author shows how possible it is for a system meant to protect and help homeless children, can in turn damage them.
The purpose of this paper therefore, is to revisit the story of Nina Bernstein and the struggles many children face in the foster care system; in addition to this, the paper is also going to analyze and review the book critically.
Critique of the Book
Generally, Bernstein’s book is a well written piece of work with a lot of information on the relationship that existed between law, religion, politics, ethnicity, and the foster care. Her look at the intersection between law and religion for example, is very informative and at the same time engaging. She achieves this by putting a face to all the issues she talks about. For example she gives the audience in depth portraits of Judge Polier, the juvenile court judge, as well as that of the chief litigator, Marcia. In the book, these two are shown to be Jews who are both liberal socially and intelligent. However, their heritage seems to be the key determinant of their actions. Bernstein says, ‘for Marcia, the Wilder case marked the convergence of historical forces that had crisscrossed her life from childhood’ (Bernstein 36).
There several shortcomings in the book however. For example the author seems to cut short some of the issues she raises without covering them extensively. She brings up racial issues that she believes limit the help these children get from the foster care but she does not develop the issue, which should have been significant in the book because racial issues are very central to the case, and thus, to the book. In some of the passages that address this issue, the author shows us how Lamont, Shirley’s son finally realizes that being black and poor gives one the same life as the one in the foster care, so there would have been no difference if he grew up at home or in the foster care, because life is the same in the both places. In the book, the black people are generally categorized as the poor people, and the white people are generally categorized as rich people. These two races live in the same country, but they are shown as two nations living in one nation, an idea that the author did not properly and adequately develop.
The style Bernstein chooses to utilize in this book is also interesting. She mixes two very uncommon styles in books, literary license and some sort of reporting to come up with an account that is both moving and compelling. She did not use any direct styles to address the audience like most authors do in these kinds of literally works. She instead uses a style that is more indirect. For example she presents her audience with interviews, testimonies, newspaper accounts, as well as published history to address her point. Her approach allows the reader to come to their own conclusion about the matter without her influencing it. Her utilization of literary devices like imagery, criticism, and metaphors, is so light such that it is easy to miss. However, she does use quite a few in explaining several accounts. For example she uses a flower metaphor to explain and show the rootless existence Lamont has had. ‘What Lamont would remember most vividly about Foundling was a view from high window, and an image of himself alone…. The Foundling was only the manicured median of Park Avenue, where tulips had already bloomed…. discarded to make room for another row of plants’ (Bernstein 258).
Generally, The Lost Children of Wilder: the Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care is just not about the Wilder. It is also a picture of many of the other children that have been placed under the care of the children welfare systems. It is also about many litigators who eventually lose their way in the very persuasive machine of self interest and politics, which has become a common picture in the legal system of New York and many other cities. It is also an account of the lives many people view as statics; the children whose lives are being destroyed and lost in the system, the amount of money the state is ‘wasting’ in dealing with these children, the numerous families that have lost their benefits from the welfare, and the hourly salaries that have continued to place more and more of such families in the streets, and under the hands of the same failing system.
Though these accounts are both enlightening and helpful for those in need of further information on the issue, the author does very little when it comes to offering solutions. The book is very moving, sad, and gives little hope for the children. What one would expect is that the author would offer some consolation to the audience by providing some rays of hope that something can be done to change the situation. She just ends the book without apologies or without offering any possible solutions that could streamline the system and in so doing save the destitute children. She finishes the book in silence and asks, ‘ok. So that is what happened. Now what are you going to do’ (Bernstein 481).
Nina Bernstein’s book The Lost Children of Wilder: the Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care is a well written account of events that are very unfortunate, heart breaking, and sad; events about a damaged young life of Shirley Wilder, a thirteen year old girl who finds herself in a failed foster care system. The author different various literary devices like metaphors to deliver her story in addition to well researched and supported facts about the issue that help her produce a very in depth and compelling story. It is an account of poverty and the consequences of separating children from their parents and the ensuing problems with the foster care, given in a careful, informative, and flowing prose.
Bernstein, Nina. The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care. New
York: Vintage Books, 2001. Print.