Sadly, many children in America do not have a solid and loving home foundation and find themselves in foster care. Those who enter America’s foster system jump from house to house and host family to host family. Only a small percentage of these children can say that they found a true, loving home through foster care.
As difficult as this system is on the children, it is also a great struggle for the foster parents who undertake the challenge of caring for foster kids. It is far from easy and takes great patience and strength to care for America’s lonely and often troubled youth. It takes a truly special kind of tolerance to be able to open one’s home to foster children and raise them as one of their own.
Foster Care for 30 Years
Ms. Emily Pinkney, along with her late husband Edward, are some of the special few who have not only taken on this challenge but put heart and soul into it for 30 years. Now retiring from her extensive career as a foster parent, Ms. Pinkney looks back at the journey with pride and sacred memories.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, Emily endured a strict Catholic upbringing. She was one of nine children and was raised to be kind, polite, and presentable when in public. After graduating from high school, Emily attended Fleets Business School in Annapolis. The students there were much wealthier, and she was the only one that had to work while still attending classes. She worked several different jobs including waitressing and babysitting. After her graduation, she became a high school secretary. She married her high school sweetheart at 19 years old and bore two daughters from the marriage.
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Ms. Pinkney suffered a great deal of loss in her early adult years. Her oldest daughter passed away of Sarcoidosis and at age 34, Emily was diagnosed with bone cancer. To save her life, her arm was amputated up to the elbow. She was a dedicated worker and never let her disability or loss hold her back. She knew that she still wanted to be of service somehow to her community, so she decided to become a foster parent.
“My siblings told me I was crazy and that I shouldn’t do it, but my heart just told me to,” Emily said. “I needed to share my life and that was my calling.”
Hosting Foster Kids
Over the last 30 years, Emily raised about fifty foster kids and hosted around one hundred in total. Sometimes she would have as many as six foster kids in her home at once. There were very few children that Emily could not manage, and social services would often send her the toughest cases because of her strong and determined mentality.
Emily’s husband was a carpenter and built more bedrooms in their house to accommodate more children. “We took children that the system thought would never be able to grow up in a home. These are the kinds of kids we raised,” Emily said.
Emily and Edward Pinkney went above and beyond the call of duty as foster parents. They were not the kind of hosts that gave children the bare minimum. They reached into their hearts and wallets to raise every child like their own and exposed them to as many opportunities as they could.
“We never used the word ‘Foster,’” Emily said. “We would always introduce the kids as our grandkids or our kids. The community often never knew they were foster children and would always just refer to them as ‘The Pinkney Kids.’”
The Pinkneys took them on vacations with the family to places like Jamaica, Canada, Las Vegas, and Disney World. They took the kids to medical appointments and therapy to get them help when they needed it. They helped each one through school no matter how great the challenge was. They taught every child to be kind and respectful, even when they were too angry or scared to want to try.
Ms. Pinkney did all of this and more with her sheer willpower, tough mental attitude, and only one arm for an extra challenge! She had the determination to take care of kids of all ages, from 10 months to 18 years. With one arm, she would change diapers, cook meals, run the home, and mentor dozens of children that came through her door.
Her husband was a magnificent help and was wonderful with the children. He would cook and play with them every day. Their marriage was blessed and never dull for a moment. Emily said that nothing was the same anymore when he passed away three years ago. He is greatly missed and was a huge source of strength for Emily along their parenting journey.
Challenges As a Foster Parent
The road was not always easy. The toughness of Emily’s upbringing helped prepare her for the many challenges she faced as a foster parent.
“I prayed and cried more for these children than my own most of the time,” she said. “I wanted them all to finish high school. That was our rule,” Emily said. “Boy, we had to drag them through, but in the end, all but one graduated.”
Over time, the Pinkneys learned how to best deal with the uphill battles. They tried not to dwell on the negative or reinforce the children’s want for negative attention. Ms. Pinkney spent nine years as a trainer with social services, teaching new foster parents through her knowledge and experience. She advises other foster parents to praise good behavior and lead with love. A tough mentality and a great deal of patience are necessary for foster parent success.
“Sometimes you love them, but you don’t like them. I just wouldn’t give up on them,” said Emily. “I always found something nice to say and stayed positive. Also, you can’t do this for money. They can’t pay you enough. Do it because you love children.”
Part of what makes fostering so difficult is the children’s mentality. They often come from broken homes and are very angry with the world. They often do not have any self-worth and do not value the things they are given. These kids do not just need a place to stay, they need a home and they need love.
“By loving them, they start to learn that they are worth something, “Emily said. “They need to know that somebody values them. That’s hard to do, but I hope to inspire others to do the same. It is so very needed.”
Rewards of Being a Foster Parent
The challenges of fostering are great, but the reward is by far greater. For Emily, there were so many victories.
“When they stop damaging things or when they come to hug you. When they say I love you – that’s joy. When they tell their friends about something we did for them because they’re proud. When they show affection. When you see them graduate and find jobs,” Emily recalls. “Looking back, the good outweighs the bad. It was all worth it. I’m glad that we did it and I would do it all again.”
She has stayed connected with many of her foster kids who are now grown and on their own. They now have so much love and respect for her and call her ‘Grandma or Ma.’ One of her most challenging teens has since shared online that he “wishes he was still living with Mrs. Pinkney.” The kids that used to fight with the Pinkney’s own daughter are now her best friends. They will all reunite and talk about the things they have done together.
“When I die, I want to be remembered for the things I’ve done,” said Emily. When told how lucky her foster kids were to have her in their lives, Emily replied, “We were lucky to have them. They taught us unconditional love.”
By Rebecca Kieran