Another Place at the Table is about Kathy Harrison’s experience of being a foster mother to over a hundred children in addition to raising a family of both biological and adopted children. She chronicles the struggles, tears, and absolute heartbreak that comes with being a foster parent, taking in abused and mentally ill children and watching them become victims of “the system” in 1990s Massachusetts. It’s a rough read– I found myself not wanting to believe some of the stories she was telling. However gut wrenching the story, I still feel that it takes a special person to commit themselves to fostering. To all those who critique her and her decisions, unless you’ve fostered children yourself, hold your tongue.
I can imagine what compelled Harrison and her husband, Bruce, to foster. Hearing the stories of what happens to children and almost worse, what lies ahead if they aren’t given the chance to enter a stable home brings me to tears. Children who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are significantly more likely to develop depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, diabetes, alcoholism and drug abuse tendencies. An ACE can be something like a parental separation or divorce, having a family member incarcerated, or being sexually abused. The higher the number of ACEs, the worse the likely outcome. While poverty, as Harrison rightly points out is a big factor (leading to and perpetuating toxic stress) of the “why children end up in foster care” question, there’s more to the picture she doesn’t quite address, and I understand, that’s not the scope of her book.
What Harrison does know is that fostering takes up ones entire emotional threshold. The story of Shamika, a beautiful baby who had been horrifically burned (not by accident) is incredibly touching. Harrison and Bruce feel a kinship to her almost instantaneously and quickly become very attached and protective. When word gets out of Shamika’s recently released (from prison) father that his child (who he’s only met once) is in the hands of the Harrison’s and is willing to do whatever to get his daughter back, social services whisks Shamika away from the arms of the Harrisons in order to protect the baby. Harrison is left devastated, with little more than hope to guide her though recovering. I found this story to be even more so important to the book as Harrison opens up how she struggles to feel the same, unrelenting parental love for each of her children. There’s Karen, who the Harrisons adopt as a young child, who they have unfailing love for. But during the time of Karen’s adoption, other foster children in the home struggle with understanding why the Harrison’s didn’t adopt them. Were they not loved? Was Karen loved more? Of course the Harrison’s couldn’t adopt every children that came through their doors but it felt awful to read Harrison’s words, acknowledging that while they cared for every child, there were just some they felt connected to in a way that they did not with others.