I was contacted by TLC Book Tours to write an honest review of Casey Watson's book, Too Hurt To Stay, in exchange for a copy of the book.
Casey Watson (a pseudonym) is a specialist foster parent in the U.K. She and her husband provide care to children who are particularly hard to place, or as she describes in this book "the ones everyone else had given up on" (p.80). Watson's inspiration for fostering was that she worked with troubled kids in a school setting which must have been good preparation for choosing to work with particularly troubled children.
As a grandmother in her 40s with no other children in her home and a supportive husband, Watson has an ideal home for providing one-on-one attention and care to the type of children who come into their home. Their goal as foster parents is to provide what some might call "specialized" or "therapeutic" foster care by using a point system based on rewarding good behavior and choices with privileges. The ultimate goal of such a behavior modification program is to have the children in their care make enough progress to return to their "regular" foster homes or to be returned to their family's care.
Too Hurt to Stay is the true story about an eight year old boy, Spencer, who asks to be put into care by social services. What kind of a kid would ask to be in care? How bad would a child's home life have to be to do that? Those were my first thoughts when reading the beginning chapters. And my curiosities and concern for this little boy deepened each time Casey's caseworker shared additional information with her about his case: Spencer is the middle child of 5 children and his parents claim that he is "abnormal" and "born evil". . . (yet they don't have any problems with any of their other children which made me a bit suspicious.)
As a foster parent I also have to admit that I thought it was quite ironic that Casey was thinking about "taking a break" at the time she received the call about Spencer.
Although this book is a true account and chronicles Watson's experience fostering one little boy, it almost could have been classified as a mystery because I wanted to know, as did Casey, if this little boy she was caring for was simply acting out on learned behaviors from a troubled home (nurture) or if he might actually be a true sociopath (nature). The most disturbing parts of this book for me to read were not so much about Spencer's troubling behaviors- specifically lying, stealing, running away, and hurting children and animals, but his reaction when he was "caught"- he would either deny things altogether, shift the blame to someone else, or when he couldn't lie his way out of a situation he seemed to show no guilt whatsoever for his actions. Just as eerie was how polite he could act so shortly afterwards or before any of these incidents occurred.
I really wanted to give Spencer the benefit of the doubt- especially since he was just eight years old- and I believe that there's always a reason people act or react the way they do, but I was also quite terrified that he might actually be a sociopath. Having said that, it is not until the end of the book that we learn more details of his family life and some of the puzzling aspects of his case and history slowly begin to fall into place and make more sense. I admit that I was a bit surprised at how things turned out and it just goes to show that situations and people aren't always what they seem.
I couldn't help comparing this book and the author to Cathy Glass and her books as Watson and Glass are both experienced foster carers in the U.K. who write about their experiences under pen names. I think I prefer Cathy Glass's writing style a bit over Watson's- although I can't quite put my foot on why- but I found Watson very easy to like and I admire her tremendously for being willing to open her home to children like Spencer who need such specialized care.
Although this book was a worthwhile read, I would caution others who aren't familiar with fostering from jumping to the conclusion that every single foster child is going to display all of the behaviors Spencer showed. Please keep in mind that Casey Watson specifically requests to work with children who have significant behavioral or emotional problems and that foster parents are able to choose which kinds of age groups, past traumas, or disabilities and behaviors they feel comfortable with.
As a foster care provider, I personally wouldn't be able to say "yes" to having a child with Spencer's behaviors in my home (at least at this stage in my life) as he could be a danger to my own children, so I applaud Watson and her husband -and others of you out there!- who go through the training and whose families and homes are a good fit for these children so that they can have just that- a home setting and support while they work through things rather than having to be placed in an institutionalized setting.