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They're All My Children

Foster Mothering in America

Danielle Wozniak

Publication Year: 2002

The first book on foster care written from foster mothers' perspectives, They're All My Children voices the often painful experiences of contemporary U.S. foster mothers as they struggle to mother and care-work in the face of exploitative social relations with the state. Drawing on extensive ethnographic research, Wozniak, herself a former foster mother and an anthropologist, presents and analyzes women's personal stories about fostering to reflect on the larger socio-cultural context of American family lifenamely, how we think about kinship, identity, and work. Foster mothers construct enduring kinship relationships with children, and often with the children's biological families. These relationships enhance children's chances to growth and thrive and in turn extend women's kin relationships into often distant and disparate communities. Wozniak also highlights the economic side of fostering to show how foster mothers are both mothers and workers; foster children are both providers and provided for, adored sentimental children and economic figures.

Through in-depth interviews and participant observation, Wozniak argues that we have not gone far enough in understanding the experiences of these women whose life work lies outside the usual boundaries. Nor have child welfare gone far enough in revising the theories upon which child welfare policies are based. Foster mothers and their experiences challenge the patriarchal, nuclear family ideals upon which foster care programs are based, a challenge that They're All My Children takes forward.

Published by: NYU Press



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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

No book is ever the sole endeavor of an author. It takes a host of people working together, supporting an author, to make the vision of a book a reality. I would like to thank those who sustained me through this process and made this work possible. First and foremost I would like to thank the women, men, and children who participated in my research. They welcomed...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-14

We are in a car on our way to an interview with a foster mother. I have chosen her name from a random sample of women who foster for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families. The driver of the car is the head of the State Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee. I have been hired by the committee to conduct ethnographic interviews...

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Chapter 2: Portrait of a Foster Mother (1): "They're All My Children, They're All My Family"

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pp. 15-34

She meets me at the door. Her hands are dotted with white paint, and she is wearing an oversized man’s shirt. She has a paintbrush in her hand, and she seems somewhat embarrassed. I realize that she has forgotten our appointment. I offer to come back, but she ushers me into the downstairs family room while she runs upstairs to put the paintbrush down and to check her...

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Chapter 3: Mothers and Workers: Becoming a Foster Mother

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pp. 35-62

Like Mrs. Hansen’s most women’s decision to foster emerged from a simultaneous vision of themselves as mothers, caregivers, and social actors with significant knowledge and ability to contribute toward societal change. It also emerged from a concomitant vision of themselves as mothers and workers whose lives revolved around home and children, and whose life work was associated...

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Chapter 4: “I’m Their Mother”: Fostering, Motherhood, and the Construction of Kinship"

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pp. 63-83

I have finally found her apartment. She lives in a long low row of public housing embedded in a tangled block of winding one-way streets. The streets ring a large teaching hospital offering services to the poor families in the surrounding neighborhoods. Later I will eat in an empty luncheonette near her apartment and watch a news report of a daytime shooting in her neighborhood...

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Chapter 5: Managing Difference, Coping with Delegitimation: Foster Mothers as Nonmothers

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pp. 84-104

While foster mothers consistently defined themselves as mothers and worked to make foster children members of their kin group, their vision of motherhood and family was constantly articulated and enacted in the face of social relations that contradicted, doubted, or delegitimized it. Thus women’s self-constructions always included a vision of themselves refracted through...

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Chapter 6: Mothering Work and the Art of Fostering

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pp. 105-127

In spite of painful interactions with the state, women established daily routines that defined what fostering was and what a foster mother should be. There was significant agreement about the definition of fostering and the nature and range of work that was “normal.” Fostering included routine caregiving tasks familiar to women through biological mothering and a host...

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Chapter 7: Familial Changes: Integrating Foster Children into the Foster Family

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pp. 128-148

Once women became licensed, foster children, foster children’s biological families, and the state had to be integrated into the rhythms and routines of everyday life. This was a complex process and required enormous personal, familial, and sometimes marital sacrifice. There were few if any support services available to foster families. Most women asked their...

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Chapter 8: “They Picked Up the Baby and the Baby Was Gone”: Mothering and Loss

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pp. 149-163

Cindy sits at the kitchen table looking at her hands, the three-year-old boy in her lap alternately resting quietly and then fidgeting with her blouse and hair. He is holding a red plastic suitcase. I ask her how it will be when the two brothers she has raised from infancy leave for their adoptive home. She looks away and begins to cry. She strokes the boy’s hair...

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Chapter 9: Portrait of a Foster Mother (2): Motherhood, Loss, and Social Action

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pp. 164-185

I went to Lillith’s house for dinner last night. She showed me pictures of her daughter Arielle when I asked if a picture hanging on the refrigerator was her. Lillith went to her bedroom and came back with a large manila envelope of photographs. She laid a black and white portrait of Arielle on the kitchen table. In the picture Arielle sat near a window, staring straight at the camera...

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Chapter 10: “I Wanna Make It through the Week”

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pp. 186-209

The security guard in the DCF office had me sign in and watched as I told the receptionist behind the bullet-proof glass who I was and who I was there to see. The lobby was small and grimy, with a few officelike couches and a few beat-up magazines. Along the side walls of the lobby were playrooms. I knew from my days as a social worker that these were for parental visits...

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Chapter 11: Conclusion

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pp. 210-216

What does this research tell us? What can we learn from the voices of those who talked about their experiences? Perhaps the place to begin is to acknowledge that the current foster care system is in a state of crisis, evidenced, in part, by the pain emanating from those who participate in and construct the discourse. In some respects, Shakespeare could not...

Appendix: About This Study

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pp. 217-224


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pp. 225-231


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pp. 233-241


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pp. 243-244

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About the Author

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pp. 245

Danielle F. Wozniak is Assistant Research Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches part-time. She lives with her husband and daughter in Connecticut and...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814784761
E-ISBN-10: 0814784763
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814793466
Print-ISBN-10: 0814793460

Page Count: 356
Publication Year: 2002