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"The Lost Boy": A Lesson on Hope

written by: Mildred Wilson • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 8/2/2012

What does it mean to be a F-child (foster child)? Disappointment can become the norm. In this lesson plan on The Lost Boy, learn how Dave Pelzer coped and persevered as a foster child and how he navigated through a maze of social workers, psychiatrists, lawyers, and foster care parents.

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    The Second Leg

    The Lost Boy is the second part of Dave Pelzer's three part memoir. In the first part, A Child Called It, he shares his years of physical and mental abuse from the ages four to twelve at the hands of his mother and his ultimate rescue by school and law enforcement officials. In The Lost Boy, he describes his life as a foster child from ages twelve to eighteen and how he dealt with a system filled with confusion, uncertainty and inconsistency.

    Grade Level: 9 - 12


    The student will be able to explain how the foster care system works.

    The student will be able to evaluate the pros and cons of the foster care system.

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    Preliminary Discussion Before Reading the Book

    Before you begin the book, generate a discussion with the students about foster care. Students can test their prior knowledge by creating a KWL chart about foster care. Some of the terms that you might wish to discuss with your students are:

    Child Protective Service

    Social Worker

    Ward of the Court

    Foster Parents

    Temporary Foster Home

    Permanent Foster Home

    Stockholm Syndrome

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    Activities While Reading the Book

    As students read the book, have them keep a log on the number of foster homes in which Dave was placed. Have them develop a five-column chart and label each column with the following title: Name of Family, Number of Other Foster Children in Home, Sleeping Accommodations (Private Room, Shared a Room [number in room, Sofa, etc.]), and Fun Activities (generated by foster parents). In the interest of space, the students may abbreviate labels if necessary.

    Have the students keep a three-column chart on Dave's behavior. At the top of the first column label it Positive Behavior. At the top of the center column label it Negative Behavior. At the top of the third column label it Other. The "Other" column should reflect behavior that was unusual or reflected some ignorance on Dave's part. (Note: Behavior in the "Other" column might be a duplicate of the "Positive" or "Negative" column.)

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    Activities After Reading the Book

    1. Divide the students into three groups and have them develop a cause and effect chart to help them understand Dave. One group should report on Dave's negative behavior, positive behavior,and other behavior. The goal of the discussion is to show that Dave's "positive", "negative" and "other" behavior had different effects.

    2. Review Dave's feelings on pages 79 and 80. Ask students if they think Dave exhibited symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. Cite other examples where Dave had conflicted feelings about his abusive mother.

    3. Ms. Gold, Dave's social worker and Gordon, Dave's lawyer, were key figures in his life. Have students make a Venn diagram and show how Ms. Gold and Gordon were alike and different in their professional approach. Ask them, in the long run, which of these professionals do they think Dave could trust and depend on? Explain.

    4. Divide the students into small groups and do a character study of the foster parents. Discuss what traits the foster parents exhibited that were harmful and the traits that were helpful?

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    Follow-Up Activity

    Provide the students with the following writing prompts:

    1. Dave Pelzer begins The Lost Boy by sharing what happened to him at the age of nine when he was kicked out of his house. The authorities called his father and he was returned home. For the next three years, he was further abused until he was rescued at age twelve by school officials and placed in the foster care system. Based on what you've discussed about the foster care system in class, review his experience and write how things might have gone differently. (e.g., Would he have been turned over to his father without any further investigation by the authorities? Would law enforcement have involved social service? Would he have been examined? etc.)

    2. What things did you find positive about Dave's experience with the foster care system and what things did you find negative? Reflect on what you would have done if you were in a similar situation.

    3. Write a help wanted advertisement for foster parents and include the necessary and/or desirable skills that you think would make good foster parents.

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    Extension Activity

    Create a diamente poem about Dave.

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    It Takes a Village

    In 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a book titled, It Takes a Village. While her book was focused on the daycare system and the support that parents and daycare workers needed, its message was appropriate for the foster care system.

    Parenting is a difficult skill. There is no consistent parental training manual. For the most part, it's on the job training. Once we as parents have satisfied our "narcissistic" urge to create someone in our own image, we have to face the reality of raising this baby until he is at least eighteen. Clearly, you can't send a child back. Most of us realize that even while we're losing sleep in the early stages. Somehow, most of us just deal with what is. Unfortunately, some parents can't. We have no information as to why Dave's mother acted as she did, other than she was an alcoholic. Whether that was the reason goes beyond the scope of this article.

    Increasingly, it's become clear that parents need support to help ward off stress. Efforts have been made to get various professionals involved to, hopefully, prevent cases like Dave's.

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    Pelzer, Dave, The Lost Boy, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield, Beach, Florida, 1997, ISBN 1-55874-515-7.

    Clinton, Hillary Rodham, It Takes a Village, Simon and Schuster, 1996.