System Kids

Adolescent Mothers and the Politics of Regulation

By Lauren J. Silver

210 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2259-0
    Published: February 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2260-6
    Published: February 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4634-1
    Published: February 2015

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System Kids considers the daily lives of adolescent mothers as they negotiate the child welfare system to meet the needs of their children and themselves. Often categorized as dependent and delinquent, these young women routinely become wards of the state as they move across the legal and social borders of a fragmented urban bureaucracy. Combining critical policy study and ethnography, and drawing on current scholarship as well as her own experience as a welfare program manager, Lauren Silver demonstrates how social welfare "silos" construct the lives of youth as disconnected, reinforcing unforgiving policies and imposing demands on women the system was intended to help. As clients of a supervised independent living program, they are expected to make the transition into independent adulthood, but Silver finds a vast divide between these expectations and the young women's lived reality.

Digging beneath the bureaucratic layers of urban America and bringing to light the daily experiences of young mothers and the caseworkers who assist them, System Kids illuminates the ignored work and personal ingenuity of clients and caseworkers alike. Ultimately reflecting on how her own understanding of the young women has changed in the years since she worked in the same social welfare program that is the focus of the book, Silver emphasizes the importance of empathy in research and in the formation of welfare policies.

About the Author

Lauren J. Silver is assistant professor of childhood studies at Rutgers University-Camden.
For more information about Lauren J. Silver, visit the Author Page.


“Vividly brings to life the hopes, frustrations, and reality of how the [Supervised Independent Living] program functions for both clients and workers.”--Women’s Review of Books

“A powerful example of feminist ethnography at its best. . . . Among its many strengths are its accessibility, presentation of multiple perspectives, and a strong systemic critique.”--Journal of Women and Social Work

“An intimate and intense account of teenage mothers navigating the complexities and paradoxes of welfare bureaucracy.”--Gender & Society

“Creatively juxtaposes these two positionalities--care provider and care recipient--calling into question the assumed power dynamic of controlling, middle level administrative case managers and passive social service recipient.”--Ethos

“Provides [a glimpse] into the complex and often fragmented world of young mothers involved in the child welfare system. . . . Observations and insights on the conditions of the front lines of this work are unique and invaluable to agency managers and policy makers.”--Social Service Review

"Provides an in-depth ethnographic summary of the challenges encountered by adolescent mothers requiring social assistance. . . . Would be a great addition to courses involving adolescent development, government policies, poverty, or sociological perspectives."--International Social Science Review

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