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Turning Stones: My Days and Nights With Children at Risk.

Marc Parent worked for New York City's Emergency Children's Services from 1986-91. His job was to respond to reports of suspected child abuse and make night visits to determine whether or not to remove a child at-risk and arrange for temporary foster care. The families he visited suffered with drug problems, mental illness, and alcohol abuse. Their living conditions ranged from bleak to squalid.

Parent (what an apropos name) relates shattering anecdotes: an eight-year-old holds a younger brother at knife point; three small children watch their older sister jump out of a sixth-floor window at their mother's command; a young girl with venereal disease insists she has not been sexually abused, etc. He and his colleagues saved many youngsters but they were not always successful. After Parent has been three years on the job, a little boy, who Parent and his partner saw and chose not to remove from his home, dies of malnutrition. Parent and his colleague are officially exonerated, but not from despair. He is comforted by recalling a nun who turned over a stone wherever she went saying "I turn a stone ... so that the place is different ... because I have been there." (Thus the book's title).

Parent, who worked in New York City, cautions us that he is describing a national problem (he provides evidence). He reminds us that caseworkers are under terrific stresses and many become discouraged and alienated after a few years on the job. This can have devastating results, since making the correct decision may be a matter of life and death. Perhaps one should not remain in this line of work for an extended period (even an idealist like Parent left after four years). Parent has also made the case, in a New York Times op-ed, that caseworkers should be allowed to concentrate on dealing with children at-risk and not saddled with ancillary tasks like food stamp certification. He also suggests that caseworkers receive better training and be held to higher levels of accountability.

Parent never wrote as a professional before Turning Stones and he did not view himself as a writer. He asked former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen to listen to his experiences and write the book (she has written the foreword). "Nobody should stand between you and this information" she told him and encouraged Parent to write the book. The result is an honest, informative effort by a champion of the young and the vulnerable.
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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1997
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