In the novel The Leavers by Lisa Ko, Deming Guo is taken into foster care after his mom Polly disappears. Eventually he’s adopted by a white suburban couple Peter and Kay, however, he does experience the foster care system of America before adoption. Through Deming’s experiences in the system readers can see his struggles that are representative of struggles that many children in foster care deal with, and the effects of those struggles.
Although foster care usually isn’t seen as a prominent part of American society, in reality over 400,000 children are in the foster care system per day. There is a large age range for foster children ranging from infants to 18 years of age, with the average age about nine years old. Children usually stay around a year in foster care, with more than half reunified with previous caretakers and a quarter adopted. Nevertheless there are around 20,000 who have to leave the system due to no adoptions/caretakers and who have reached legal adult age. Some children go from foster home to foster home with all their possessions in trash bags, an experience that can cause psychological trauma. The older children are, the smaller the chance for them to be adopted as well.
The foster care system is flawed, with limited funds and many problems that will take years to fix. Multiple sources and articles have reported serious problems such as the much higher number of children of color that enter foster care, 70% of kids end up in juvenile justice systems, or that kids in foster care are four times more likely to commit suicide compared to other children. Other outcomes include much higher rates for dropping out of school or not completing higher education such as college. Readers can see some of these issues in The Leavers such as Deming (who is renamed Daniel) struggling in school and with a gambling addiction that leaves him in heavy debt.
Ko, Lisa. The Leavers. Chapel Hill, 2017.
Julieburdick. “Foster Care in America: Realities, Challenges and Solutions.” KVC Health Systems, 2 June 2020, www.kvc.org/blog/foster-care-in-america/#:~:text=On%20any%20given%20day%2C%20nearly,slightly%20more%20boys%20than%20girls.
“The Problem.” Foster America, 2018, www.foster-america.org/the-problem.
“Students in Foster Care.” U.S. Department of Education, 27 June 2016, https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/foster-care/index.html.