Bernstein uncovers the full story of the Wilder litigation, a 26-year federal lawsuit against New York City's foster care system. The lawsuit - named after Shirley Wilder, a 12-year-old motherless child at this time - challenged the system for giving "private, mostly religious agencies control over publicly-financed foster care beds." The vicious approach resulted in children being placed not according to their needs, but according to creed and convenience. The author finds that the failures of the foster care system are related to "the child welfare system's role as a political battleground for abiding national conflicts over race, religion, gender and inequality." Bernstein reveals what happened to the small Shirley Wilder and the baby she gave birth to at the age of 14, and depicts the deep emotional wounds the foster care system had caused to them.