Cover image for Nobody's children : abuse and neglect, foster drift, and the adoption alternative
Nobody's children : abuse and neglect, foster drift, and the adoption alternative
Bartholet, Elizabeth.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Beacon Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 304 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV741 .B315 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Upwards of three million children are subject to severe forms of abuse or neglect annually in their homes, and more than half a million live in foster or institutional care, with the numbers growing exponentially. Substance abuse is wreaking havoc in home s and in the child-welfare system-80 to 90 percent of the children victimized by abuse and neglect are being raised by parents who use and abuse alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs during pregnancy. Children removed from their homes be cause of maltre atment languish in institutional care, often bouncing back and forth between foster families and their original families, with state agencies reluctant to terminate parental rights and move them on to adoption, however dim the prospects for nurturing at h ome. Nobody's Children is an intense look at child welfare policies on abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption. Elizabeth Bartholet, one of the nation's leading experts on family law, challenges the accepted orthodoxy that treats children as belonging to their kinship and their racial groups and that locks them into inadequate biological and foster homes. She asks us to apply the lessons learned from the battered women's movement as we look at battered children, and to question why family preservation ideology still reigns supreme when children rather than adult women are involved. Bartholet asks us to take seriously the adoption option. She calls on the entire community to take responsibility for its children, to think of the children at risk of abuse and neglect as belonging to all of us, and to ensure that "Nobody's Children" become treasured members of somebody's family.

Author Notes

Elizabeth Bartholet has been a professor at Harvard Law School since 1977. She writes, lectures, and consults widely on issues involving child welfare, adoption, and reproductive technology. The mother of three boys, two of them adopted from Peru, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

The book's jacket calls this an "intense look at child welfare policies on abuse and neglect." Precisely. Bartholet's subject is too weighty for casual reading and cannot be easily digested, but it does not falter in its criticisms of American child welfare policy. Examining legislation from all parts of the United States, Bartholet questions why "family preservation ideology still reigns supreme when children rather than adult women are involved." The reader is left with a multitude of questions and concerns about the way U.S. adoption policy is currently working, questions that are catalysts for invoking the changes that Bartholet espouses. Clear and consistent, this is recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄSheila Devaney, North Carolina State Univ. Libs., Raleigh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Nobody's Children is a searing indictment of the American foster care system. Bartholet (Harvard Law School) analyzes the ideology of the social welfare establishment and of the federal laws that have been enacted to support foster care. The core of that ideology, she argues, is the preservation of birth families who are in crisis. Although this may be a laudable goal in theory, in practice it has been a disaster for the children involved. Returning them to their dysfunctional families or extended kin can literally be a death sentence, or at best--after a short abusive stay, typically with a drug-addicted single mother--they return to foster care. Bartholet's primary solution to the problem of the foster care system is that social workers and the legal system must abandon the goal of preserving families of origin and become advocates for adoption. If birth parents take drugs and abuse their children, the state should quickly step in, terminate parental rights, and place the children with adoptive parents. This is a controversial, eye-opening book that should be read by child welfare professionals, as well as anyone concerned with the high number of children in foster care. All libraries. E. W. Carp; Pacific Lutheran University

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Kinship and Communityp. 2
The Race/Class Problemp. 4
Blood Bias and Family Autonomy Politicsp. 7
Two Stories of a Family at Risk for Child Maltreatmentp. 8
New Directions for the Twenty-First Century?p. 22
History and Politics
1. The Inherited Tradition: Parenting Rights and State Wrongsp. 33
Autonomous Familiesp. 33
Family Preservation Policies and Practicesp. 38
2. The Politicsp. 44
The Left-Right Coalition: An Unholy Alliance?p. 44
Lessons From the Battered Women's Movementp. 50
Politics for the Futurep. 54
The Problem
3. Modern-Day Orphansp. 59
Abuse and Neglectp. 61
Substance Abuse: At the Heart of the Problemp. 67
Foster and Institutional Carep. 81
The Impact on Childrenp. 95
4. Underintervention Vs. Overinterventionp. 98
The Ongoing Tradition
5. Traditional Programs Weather the Stormp. 113
Family Preservation in Its Infinite Varietyp. 113
Community Preservation: Race Matching and Related Policiesp. 123
6. "New" Programs Promote Traditional Ideasp. 141
Family Group Decision Makingp. 142
Community Partnershipsp. 146
The New Permanency Movementp. 154
Promising New Directions and Traditional Pitfalls
7. Intervening Early with Home Visitationp. 163
The Promisep. 165
Some Pitfallsp. 169
8. Taking Adoption Seriouslyp. 176
The Promisep. 176
Promising Initiatives of the Dayp. 186
Some Pitfallsp. 192
Radical Revolution or Modest Revisionism?p. 203
Confronting the Challenging Issues
9. Substance Abusep. 207
The Problemp. 207
The Traditional System's Responsep. 208
The Harm to Childrenp. 212
The Future: Pitfalls and Promisep. 217
10. Race, Poverty, and Historic Injusticep. 233
The Connection with Child Maltreatmentp. 233
Exploitation Stories of the Twentieth Centuryp. 235
Outlines of a New Storyp. 238
Notesp. 245
Indexp. 293
Acknowledgmentsp. 303