A Life Without Consequences

reviewed by Ami L. Vitko, BSW Student, College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN.

A Life Without Consequences, by Stephen Elliott, MacAdam/Cage Publishing: San Francisco, CA, 2001, 186 pp., U.S. $25.00, Canada $38.00.

A Life Without Consequences offers a firsthand look into the life of a young adolescent boy named Paul. Through the voice of Paul, author Stephen Elliott paints a vivid portrait of the emotional and physical reality of growing up in the foster care system. Before being placed in foster care, however, Paul’s life has not been easy. He has endured a physically abusive father, the death of his mother, life on the streets as a runaway, and a suicide attempt. Soon after his attempted suicide, Paul is placed in an adolescent psychiatric facility. It is at this point, when Paul is 14 years old, that he enters the foster care system.

Elliott divides Paul’s various placements into separate chapters. First, Paul is in the hospital, then a toolshed, then Adlai Stevenson House, and finally, nine months in a less restrictive group home. Through each of these situations, we learn about the fierce loyalties and tenuous connections among Paul and the other adolescents in foster care. We hear about the lack of hope, the lack of physical safety, and the constant sense of distrust. More impressive, however, is how author Stephen Elliot has managed to make Paul’s narration so deeply personal and yet so dissociated from the events he is experiencing. This is an excellent example of how an adolescent like Paul might cope with the emotional and physicial traumas he is experiencing.

Many of the events in A Life Without Consequences are based on experiences author Stephen Elliott has had in his own life. He has written a brutally honest and emotionally moving account of what it is like to be on the receiving end of a system that remains largely impersonal. It is an excellent example of emotional survival and the determination to thrive. Elliott reminds us that foster care is not simply about placing a child in a home. Many of these kids cannot be placed in typical homes. Once they are in the foster care system, they continue to have huge educational, psychiatric, and physical needs. Elliot clearly understands these issues.

Foster care children are involved with the educational system, the juvenile court system, mental health system, and child welfare system. They are involved with many of the systems that have a direct connection to social work practice. This book is useful in its ability to educate social work professionals, social work students, and anyone working with foster care, about what children might be experiencing and feeling when placed into this system. It is also important for social work clients because it is a story of success that is presented in a very realistic manner. Hopefully, it will inspire us all to continue to examine our foster care laws, so we can help make changes that bring hope to these children, not just futility.

This review appears in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Vol 9, No. 1, Winter 2002.

© 2001, 2002 White Hat Communications