Sunday, January 27, 2008


Another Place at the Table, Kathy Harrison, Jeremy P Tarcher, 2003, 224 pp

I read this as research for a story I am not working on but which I hope someday to finish. It is the memoir of an excellent foster mother from Massachusetts. At the time of writing, she had been providing foster care for over 13 years to almost 100 different children. She had also won awards and worked to train other foster parents. She and her husband had three kids of their own plus three adopted daughters. In her area, she had seen it all.

It is a highly emotional and heartrending story. Most kids who end up in foster care have suffered some kind of abuse: physical, sexual, neglect, nutritional, emotional as well as prenatal conditions affected by drugs and alcohol. The story goes like this: children of abusive parents grow up to be abusive parents. Add in poverty, alcohol, drugs and crime and it is almost a hopeless cycle that goes on and on.

I came away from the book in awe of this woman. She is very open about her own shortcomings and failures, but to me she is some kind of saint, not to mention her amazing husband. Through the years she got more savvy and tougher in dealing with the social services system, though she is eloquent in her analysis of the political issues, underfunding and the overloading of not enough case workers in that system. She makes it clear that it boils down to good people both in the system and among the foster parents.

My first introduction to the foster care system was White Oleander by Janet Fitch, who paints a very grim picture in her novel. Another Place at the Table is more balanced. Some of these kids are so damaged as to have become psychotic but many, at least in Kathy Harrison's home, got help and hope.

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