From Pariahs to Partners: How Parents and Their Allies Changed New York City’s Child Welfare System, by David Tobis, Oxford University Press, 2013, $29.95.
In social work, we are often challenged to make a determination regarding the meritorious contributions a writer makes to the profession. This manuscript artfully commands the attention of child welfare professionals and academicians, alike. In his book, From Pariahs to Partners: How Parents and Their Allies Changed New York City’s Child Welfare System, David Tobis captures the essence of perseverance in the wake of tremendous odds, with regard to New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services and the families affected by this system. In this book, Tobis offers a brief overview of the inner workings of a large bureaucratic system, the challenges that have saddled this organization and the city over time, and provides a guide to help everyday citizens implement fundamental changes at a grassroots level.
The author asserts his authority in writing this book by recounting his roles as a community organizer for a social movement, a consultant on an international level, and an administrator within the child welfare arena. Tobis’ passion for effecting positive change began when he worked in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement, prior to working internationally with UNICEF and the World Bank. His commitment to helping underserved and under-represented populations led him to an administrative role with the Child Welfare Fund.
The book tells the story of micro and macro change, and it allows readers to immerse themselves in a system fraught with forces that leave children in precarious predicaments. Tobis profiles six parent advocates who, prior to their work as advocates, struggled to maintain stability in their lives. While in the throes of tumult and change, these parents were separated from their children. In the wake of this reality, they learned about what they did not know and used this information to form partnerships and help mobilize others who lacked knowledge about the system.
Tobis provides depth about the change agents who played major roles in shaping the environment that empowered parents to shift processes in a large bureaucracy. He discusses the influence of these organizations, which were committed to changing a system for the better, and, in turn, offers insight about how these processes could be adapted by others to change other child welfare service systems.
This book offers lessons for both the child welfare practitioner and the student who aspires to make a positive impact in the lives of children entangled in the child welfare system. Tobis opens wide the floodgates for helping others realize what is possible. This book promotes the idea that positive change is possible and probable when people are committed and willing to do the work it takes make it happen.
Reviewed by Kenya Y. McKinley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Social Work Program, Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University.