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His teacher knows that no matter how good her lesson plans are, she has little chance of reaching him until his basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, and love are met.

The skyrocketing increases in alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, and homelessness are taking a toll on our nation's infants and children. For a growing number of them, neglect and abuse is an everyday fact of life. Nearly 500,000 children now live in foster homes, group homes, hospitals, and detention centers--and their number is rising.

Social-service workers, judges, and probation officers are overwhelmed. So are teachers. Not only is the number of foster children increasing, but the children coming into child welfare agencies have more severe emotional and physical problems than ever before.

Many Americans can look away from these children, but teachers cannot. The teacher sees the needy child each day and must watch as hard-won progress unravels each night.

So it is not surprising that some teachers--nobody knows how many-- decide to take the child home. And for each one who takes this big step, undoubtedly many others wonder if they should.

What follows are the stories of three teachers who have become foster parents of students they encountered at school--why they decided to do it, how it has worked out, and how they feel about it now.

The children's names have been changed and their faces are not shown in order to comply with child-protection laws.

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