“The Lost Boy” is an emotional non-fiction story, an autobiography, of Dave Pelzer’s difficult trials of child abuse and experience in foster care. It is a tale of a young boy who lives in isolation and fear searching for a place to call home, for a family. “The Lost Boy” encompasses themes of love, hate, and ultimate triumph.
Dave’s life at home was one of constant terror and “lifeless existence.” He was his mother’s scapegoat and the outcast of the family. His father loved him and tried to protect and stand up for him, but his attempts were always and ultimately overruled by his mother’s wrath. Dave was forced to sleep on an old army cot in the garage, dressed in rags, performed chores, was barley fed, and physically abused by his alcoholic mother. Dave understood that he had a “private relationship” with his mother and that their relationship involved many “games.” Though Dave endured much abuse from his mother, he still loves her and desires her love and acceptance in return.
When Dave was finally taken from his home and placed in foster care, he was appointed a social worker, “an angel named Ms. Gold.” Ms. Gold became Dave’s best friend, someone he was able to trust and confide in. He loved Ms. Gold and she loved him in return. Ms. Gold spent a lot of time with Dave at first, but once the trial was complete and Dave was placed in a foster home, Ms Gold visited with Dave less and less. Ms. Gold informed him that there were other children who needed her help. Dave was sad about the infrequent visits but ultimately understood the reasons as to why.
Dave spent time in several different foster homes. With each new foster home came a new set of rules and a new way of doing things. Each time he was placed a new foster home he tested his limits. He got in trouble and made friends with individuals who negatively influenced him. Through each situation he grew and learned a little more about himself. Each set of foster parents taught him something about himself and he even states at the end of the book that they made him the person he is today.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 encouraged family preservation. If Dave was in foster care during this time, I believe he would have experienced a very tragic end to his life. Dave’s mother was an alcoholic and engaged in extremely violent behavior. If he hadn’t been rescued from his home, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been killed.
The only provision I don’t quite agree with according to the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is family preservation. While I understand that the intention behind this provision is a positive one, it would have caused tremendous havoc in situations such as Dave’s. I believe the provisions to shorten the time frame for a child’s first permanency hearing and substance abuse treatment programs for parents and children are positive ones. I believe the government really does try to do what they believe is best for the child.
Dave does not blame “the system,” he is grateful for it. He understands that it is not perfect due to the demands society places on it, but it does work. There are so few social workers because of burnout and foster parents who don’t receive appropriate recognition due to negative stigma. Reading “The Lost Boy” helped to confirm my perceptions of “the system.” I have numerous friends who have worked, or are still working, for the system of child protection and have heard various accounts of abuse and neglect and what has been done to assist the children in these situations. I do believe that we do not have enough social workers, foster parents, and advocates in proportion to the amount of child abuse and neglect cases in our society. Our society places such negative stigma on “the system” and complains that there isn’t enough done to help the children who are suffering these circumstances.
These individuals need to read this book and take into consideration the heavy case loads per social worker and the lack of sufficient foster homes and advocates. I wasn’t surprised about much of Dave’s situation. I was surprised however, to learn that 65 percent of foster parents in Iowa adopted their foster children. I believe Dave was a very strong and resilient child to have endured all that he did and still came out “on top.” I cannot fathom how any child could endure so much abuse from his/her own mother. It saddens me deeply to know that such abuse and neglect occur so frequently in today’s society.
The message of the book was a strong one and is quite moving. There are so many lessons to take away from this book, but I believe two of the more significant ones is forgiveness and that even though life may be difficult, you are ultimately in control of your outcome. Despite the abuse and neglect Dave faced as a child with his mother, he still loves her and forgives her. It is truly heartbreaking to see how much he desires just an ounce of love and acceptance from his mother. Regardless of his past, Dave states, “I was able to use my dark past to propel me to a brighter future.”
He also states that he “simply had to adapt” and that “in order to make it, I knew I had to want it more.” Dave could have simply allowed his situation to pull him under and fall victim to the negativity surrounding him. Instead, he used everything he knew to propel him forward. He made the decision to not give up and to make his life better. I believe there are great lessons to be learned from “The Lost Boy” and I would recommend this book to anyone.