August 23, 2013

Surviving the system

By Cris Beam
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To the End of June is a book about heartbreak. It's filled with tales about failed relationships; broken bonds between parents and children; attempts by foster parents to care for those lost children; the frequent, painful separations when those relationships fail. And even when the relationship does work, and a foster child does find a loving home, the child often carries into adulthood the emptiness of having lost his or her biological parents.

There are few silver linings in To the End of June. Author Cris Beam isn't out to paint a pretty picture. A gifted writer, Beam tells her tale in a short, staccato style. There is no need for flowery prose. The facts tell the story in a dynamic way, and Beam's rhythmic writing keeps the narrative flowing.

Here are some of those eye-opening facts: There are nearly 500,000 children in foster care in the United States. Up to $20 billion is spent annually on their health and management. Besides the inherent emotional scars of being separated from their biological parents, foster children are frequently shuttled from home to home and face a greater risk of suffering mental, physical and sexual abuse.

But it's the human stories Beam uncovers that bring the facts to life. Consider Oneida, 16, a half-Cuban, half-Italian girl from Brooklyn who moves in with a middle-class foster couple, only to disappear after refusing to follow the house rules. Or Noble, a crack baby adopted by a gay couple who provide the love and support to help him survive. Or Lei, a Chinese-American girl who makes it through foster care and graduates from an Ivy League school, only to struggle in adulthood because she never really knew her biological parents.

The shocking details about the foster care system and the compelling human stories make To the End of June an important book, one that sheds light on the lives of a half million children who are too often neglected and ignored.

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