cover image We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America

We Were Once a Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America

Roxanna Asgarian. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-60229-1

Journalist Asgarian debuts with a comprehensive and searing look at systemic issues within the foster care and adoption systems through the eyes of two Texas families whose Black and biracial children were removed from their homes, adopted, abused, and killed in a deliberate murder-suicide car crash by their white adoptive mothers in 2018. Over and over, Asgarian finds that wherever the children’s birth relatives “encountered resistance in the system,” the adoptive parents were given the benefit of the doubt, despite evidence of long-term abuse. Instead of focusing—as most contemporaneous news reports did—on the “dark psychological problems” of the adoptive married couple, Jennifer and Sarah Hart, Asgarian centers the birth families, interviewing the birth mothers whose parental rights were terminated and extended family members who had been seeking custody of the children, and describing the lingering trauma of the children’s surviving family, including the siblings who weren’t adopted. Emotional and frequently enraging, it adds up to a blistering indictment of a system where, in the words of one reform advocate, “we’ve lost key concepts like humanity, dignity. We’re prioritizing compliance and the needs of bureaucracy.” Throughout, Asgarian makes clear that the endemic failures that led to this shocking tragedy continue to affect countless families caught up in the child welfare system. Sensitive, impassioned, and eye-opening, this is a must-read. (Mar.)