By Jannah G. Johnson, Special to the AFRO
With Mother’s Day rapidly approaching it is important to honor those who took a less conventional approach to motherhood, namely foster parents. As of 2017 there were 4,363 children in out of home placement in the state of Maryland and when we as a society celebrate motherhood we oftentimes unfairly skip over those who don’t have biological children.
Kellie Chew, who has been a foster parent for over 2 years in Baltimore, spoke with the AFRO about some of the difficulties, joys and misconceptions that come with fostering.
Kellie Chew, who has been a foster parent for over 2 years in Baltimore, spoke with the Afro about some of the difficulties, joys and misconceptions that come with fostering. (Courtesy photo)
“I decided to become a foster mom a little over 2 years ago. I’m in the healthcare industry and I used to work at a place that dealt mainly with adolescents and I would hear stories about the abuse they suffered and their home lives and they really just needed someone to talk to them and love them, so I decided to become a foster mom really based off of that.”
Chew was nominated for Foster Mom of the year during her first year of fostering by The Arc Baltimore, an organization specializing in advocating for children with disabilities and providing family services. Chew has learned many things during her time as a resource parent, but says that selflessness and commitment were the most important lessons that have come from fostering.
“I don’t have any biological children but fostering has taught me that motherhood is a 24-hour-a-day job, it’s different then being a babysitter or keeping a kid for the weekend like this child is your responsibility 365 days a year, 7 days a week. It’s really taught me that it isn’t all about me and it’s taught me how to put someone else first, now I never put myself first. I always think about the children.”
Although Chew loves fostering children and enjoys her time with them, she admits that it’s not always an easy job, as motherhood rarely is.
“I’ve fostered about 18 children and I’m actually in the process of adopting one of them because I just can’t imagine my life without him. At one point I had two siblings ages 2 and 4 and at another point I had two 3-year-old children, one with leukemia and a 4-year-old and I was stretched very thin.”
“I’ve had children with different medical issues, so I’ve experienced the running back and forth to doctor appointments and it can be very stressful to try and give every child exactly what they need. But I love what I do. The oldest I’ve ever had was 17 and the youngest I’ve ever taken in was 3. There’s a great need for foster parents in this city. I’ve seen kids go in and out of the system but there’s a great need for loving foster parents, if you heart isn’t in it don’t do it because you will have difficult children sometimes and what’s difficult for you may not be difficult for someone else. You must have compassion and want to help but also accept the challenges that come with it just like you would with your biological child.”
As a foster parent Chew often has only temporary custody of the children she takes in, sometimes for a weekend or less. This is called respite care and it is a process Chew is quite used to.
“With a lot of the children I take in I know they’ll only be with me for a short period of time until their parents get things settled and I know the parents are working to get their children back so the separation isn’t that hard on me when it’s time for them to go back home. Most children want to be with their mothers no matter how great or not-so-great of a parent she is because that’s all they know. I try and help the children through it and let them know that this won’t last forever and they’ll see their mother again and I try to keep the lines of communication open and let them call their mothers and visit when possible. With the child I’m adopting “A”, he had no reunification date and after the first year I had him I decided to pursue adopting.”
Although Chew has no biological children of her own she stresses the importance of the fact that it has no importance, the lack of a biological connection between her and “A” has nothing to do with her love for him.
“Everyone asks if I plan to have any biological children and I’m not against it but I’m not planning on it. I’ve heard people say, ‘You don’t know how to love someone or be a mother until you’ve birthed a child.’ I totally disagree for a number of reasons. You have some parents who birth a child and don’t want anything to do with them from day one, mistreat them and never really show them the love they need, then you have some people who never have children of their own but come into contact with a child and love that child like they’re their own.”
“You can’t put a limit on love, you can take someone in and bring them into their own and love them as much as you’d love your own child. Although “A” is not my biological child when I took him home from the hospital (he had some medical issues when I first encountered him) it felt like taking my own child home from the hospital.” Loving him and watching him grow and knowing that he can count on me is the best part about fostering. I didn’t birth him but I know that this is the child I was meant to have and he was placed with me for a reason.”
“It hasn’t always been easy but it’s a great experience, if you have the heart and the rooms to do it then do it. Your heart will open and you’ll experience so many blessings. Just to know that you’re helping someone who can’t help themselves is so rewarding and it’s worth it just to see a child safe and happy. I never thought that I would adopt a child but now that I have I know it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”`
The Arc Baltimore provides extensive training for interested parents in order to assure they are prepared to care for kids who for the most part have experienced significant trauma and provides parents with well-trained social workers available for 24/7 assistance. If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent contact Bridget Roth, the Director of Foster Care and Family Supports at 410-296-2272 x5317 or visit thearcbaltimore.org.