This essay examines two long-form journalistic accounts of the contemporary US foster care system: New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein’s The Lost Children of Wilder (2001), and Life for Me Ain’t Been No Crystal Stair (1993), by The New Yorker’s Susan Sheehan. Beginning with the divergent responses such accounts of foster care typically generate in readers and reviewers, the essay then explores the popular legacy of Victorian-era depictions of “foundlings,” “lost boys,” and orphan girls. Then, it turns to the rival narrative forms Bernstein and Sheehan use—what I term the Dickensian and modernist modes, respectively—to represent the legal, social, and emotional turmoil surrounding the foster care system. Along with examining the relationships these journalists form with their subjects, and the rival modes of governance the poor must negotiate, the essay also discusses how these writers account for, or discount, the effects of the supposed culture of poverty on foster care.


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pp. 58-87
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