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National Book Award Finalist
In 1973 Marcia Lowry, a young ACLU attorney, filed a controversial class-action suit that challenged New York City’s operation of its foster-care system. The plaintiff was an abused runaway named Shirley Wilder, who had suffered from the system’s inequities. Wilder, as the case came to be known, was waged for two and a half decades, becoming a battleground for the conflicts of race, religion, and politics that shap America’s child-welfare system.
The Lost Children of Wilder gives us the galvanizing history of this landmark case and the personal story at its core. Bernstein takes us behind the scenes of far-reaching legal and legislative battles, but she also traces the life of Shirley Wilder and her son, Lamont, born when Shirley was only fourteen and relinquished to the very same system being challenged in her name. Bernstein’s account of Shirley and Lamont’s struggles captures the heartbreaking consequences of the child-welfare system’s best intentions and deepest flaws.
In recounting the failure of the promise of benevolence, The Lost Children of Wilder makes clear how welfare reform can also damage its intended beneficiaries. A landmark achievement of investigative reporting and a tour de force of social observation, this book will haunt every reader who cares about the needs of children.
“Wrenching…. A brilliant, moving chronicle.”–The New York Times
“An enthralling story from start to finish [that] reads like a true-crime novel…expert reporting.”–The Baltimore Sun
“Brilliantly researched…. Its legal analysis is rich…the drama is human.”–The New York Times Book Review (front-page review)
“Nina Bernstein’s fine reporting is more like archaeology. She searched down through layer after layer to show how the foster care system failed children, one generation after the next. The Lost Children of Wilder is a brilliant reconstruction of all the problems illuminated by a long-running lawsuit that makes Dickens’ Jarndyce v. Jarndyce look swift and just.”—Ellen Goodman, New York Daily News
“Nina Bernstein has pulled off a remarkable feat of reporting and storytelling that pushes us to reconsider how we handle children who are without home or family. A disturbing and riveting narrative that should be required reading for anyone who professes concern for children.”–Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
“This book joins a powerful analysis of law as an engine of social change with the fascinating story of the lives of a mother and son caught in the web of foster care and child-welfare agencies. Bernstein captures all the import and meaning of a legal case that split the philanthropic and civil liberties communities like no other. The Lost Children of Wilder is insightful and riveting, illuminating both the political and the personal.”–David Rothman, author of The Discovery of the Asylum