Context Presentations Week 9: Effects of Parental Separation in foster children in The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko, is a book about Deming Guo, whose name is changed later by his adoptive parents to Daniel Wilkinson, and his coming of age as the child of a immigrant parent. Deming’s mother Polly “leaves” him at an early age, and he is signed away to the foster care system. During the novel the reader learns of many hardships Deming endures as a result of this troubled childhood, including issues with gambling and school. At one point, Deming’s addiction got so bad that he had to borrow $10,000 from one of his best friends, Angel, and lost it all. Following this, Deming had to leave school at SUNY Potsdam because gambling began to cause his grades to drop.

The hardships Deming faces throughout the novel can be attributed to his shaky upbringing and give a good look into the issues children face in the United States foster care system. Though Deming was relatively lucky and was adopted by relatively well-off parents, many children in the system are not as lucky, and face many more problems because of it.

The goal of foster care is generally “reunification with parents” (, but in many cases, including Deming’s, this cannot be done, which “creates a risk” ( for some families and children. Children in foster care generally suffer from “some kind of trauma” ( and experience negative effects because of it. Though this trauma does not always occur while in foster care, and generally occurs prior, some foster families are not equipped to raise the child through this trauma. In this case, the child is prone to developing “serious issues like drug abuse, mental health issues, anger management, and other serious problems” (

Again, in Deming’s case, he develops a very serious gambling addiction, and the book brings light to the issues foster children experience, especially from parental separation, through this addiction.



Cited Sources:

Ko, Lisa. The Leavers. Little, Brown, 2018.

Ward, Sara. “What Are the Negatives of Foster Care?”, Gladney Center for Adoption.


10 thoughts on “Context Presentations Week 9: Effects of Parental Separation in foster children in The Leavers by Lisa Ko

  1. This is a reason why background checks to Foster Parents are so important in these types of situations, but even still, it doesn’t guarantee the child is going off to a better situation. I think it also can come down to, is how prepared the family is to take on a an adoption for a child. Further, I think that many families fail to think about the responsibilities as well as how well the child will fit in. This context research presentation actually had me researching the issues that were similar to Deming’s and it’s incredible the in the amount of scenarios the kid’s end up in.

  2. Your presentation is very interesting. In America, our foster care system certainly has a negative connotation surrounding it. We attribute mental health issues, crime rates, and an overall poor emotional well-being to it. But you bring up an important variable in this equation: the preparedness of the foster parents in dealing with a child who may have trauma. It’s not just whether or not foster parents are financially stable and well-equipped to prevent the child from going through traumatic experiences, but it is also how equipped the parents are to treat the prior trauma that the child has gone through. This is something that can be difficult to measure, and there is not one way to include this on an application or documentation. As one of our peers mentioned, the background check is crucial to the foster care process as it may help alleviate the issue of having ill-prepared foster parents. However, it may not be entirely sufficient in measuring whether or not the parents are capable of creating a suitable environment for a child who has trauma from past experiences.

  3. One of my African American friends grew up in foster care, and was adopted by his two white parents when he was 6. He has definitely gone through many challenges and felt a sense of not belonging in his family because he was a black boy with white parents. I think that as his friend, I do see some anger issues and depression, but he is a very well established guy, working as an electrician and is living on his own able to pay his own bills. I think that his foster care parents really raised him the right way to embrace his identity, but I think that he still has an uneasy feeling about who his real parents are. This story of Deming helps me relate to my friend and spot out similarities and differences that I can see.

    • Martin.3793 I related to your comment in a lot of ways, my ex boyfriend was adopted from Russian and grew up in foster care and was adopted at the age of 2 from his parents now. I definitely agree with seeing anger issues and depression when I was with him, he would struggle a lot with not knowing who his real parents were, this story can definitely play a lot of roles in others lives.

  4. The foster care spect of this story reminded me of one of our previous readings “Recitatif.” In that situation the main characters were reunified with their parents but continued to struggle with traumatic memories. Deming’s situation is a bit different because it involves an unjust parental separation that lead to problems later in life.

  5. I certainly agree with the notion that children in foster homes who are not set up in the right environment (i.e. abusive parents or neglect of some kind) often turn out to have negative and/or self-detrimental habits and attitudes. One example that comes to mind in my own life was a classmate of mine who was a foster child from another state (I don’t remember exactly which one) that moved to Connecticut. He lashed out frequently at other students and teachers. Looking back at it, I think that this was simply a defense mechanism for him in this new and foreign environment. He knew nobody in our town and nothing of his surroundings. Separating himself from others was his own way of trying to handle the stress of being in a new environment that was completely out of his element.

  6. This story describes the story of a foster care in a foster home. Deming is a very poor child who was adopted by a white family because his mother left inexplicably. In order to better integrate into this family, he forgot his own language. The reunion with his parents in the back made his heart trauma deepened again.

  7. I really liked your presentation and how you not only talked about how the foster care system in America could be all around better but how you all discussed how the foster care system needs to dig a little bit deeper into the parents are allowed to foster or adopt. Some families adopt for all the right reasons, meaning they want/ are ready to have a baby/child but cannot on their own or they already have a family but want to help a child in need. But some families are able to foster for the wrong reasons. Adults who choose to foster receive reimbursement for fostering that is not taxable, so some people actually only foster to receive the “extra” compensation. Not only that but foster families need to be more prepared with some of the children that they are accepting to bring into their homes. Like in the story some children experience trauma and hardship before, during and after their time in the foster care system . The children and the parents need more options to be able to deal with that trauma.

  8. I think the author’s discussion on adoption is very good. As a parent, if you don’t have the ability to support your child, you shouldn’t let him be born. Deming is example Of lack of the correct guidance of parents in adolescence. As a result, Deming did not develop a correct outlook on life and values. At the same time, because of the weak will, he got into the bad habit of play card. In addition, on the issue of adoption. If you choose to adopt a child, then you should give the child psychological guidance, not just physical support.

  9. The foster care system and transracial adoption are two controversial topics nowdays which are related to ethical and moral issues. The goal of foster care system is to let children return back to their original family because of the blood relation. However, sometimes the adopted parents perhaps provide better conditions for education and mental health. Moreover, transracial adoption involves in some issues about cultural conflicts and marginalization due to different races. The adoption should expererience a long process of careful investigation to promote children’s well-being.

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