For years Millersville resident Alison Stevens had dreamed of becoming a mother. That dream became a reality through a simple phone call.
“I hadn’t found the right person to start a family with, but I always knew that I wanted kids in my life,” Stevens says. “Becoming a foster parent seemed like a great way to do that.”
Stevens had learned about becoming a foster parent from a close friend who is a social worker, and she began training to become a foster parent. Almost as soon as Stevens was approved for a placement, she got the call that would change her life.
“I got a call at 1:30 in the morning asking if I would accept a two-month-old,” she says. Stevens welcomed baby Mariah into her home in December 2013, and she has never looked back.
In the state of Maryland, there are about 4,700 children in foster care, many of whom are awaiting permanent homes. Children are placed in foster care when Child Protective Services determines that a child cannot safely remain in a home. The child is placed with a foster family temporarily, with the goal of eventually returning the child to his or her biological family.
“When a child goes into foster care, we always try to keep them in a family setting within their current community,” says Claire Meringolo, resource home supervisor for the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services. “We look at the child’s needs and try to pair them with a foster family that will be a good match.”
Since 2005, Anne Arundel County has had a 52 percent decrease in children entering foster care, but there is a constant need for foster families.
“Foster families come in all shapes and sizes,” says Mariel Pfister, retention and recruitment specialist for Anne Arundel County Social Services. “We welcome single parents, couples, anyone over the age of 21—our needs are constantly changing. And we are always looking for individuals willing to take in teens or groups of siblings.”
For Stevens, the journey to parenthood began and ended with Mariah. A year after Mariah came to live with Stevens, she became a candidate for adoption. “It became clear that reunification with Mariah’s birth parents was not going to happen,” says Stevens. “If she was going to be adopted, I wanted to be the one to do that. I was the person she had always known as her mother.”
Mariah was adopted in November 2013 and she is now a happy four-year-old. Stevens continues to play an active role in the foster care community, serving as the president of the Foster Parent Association Board and advising new foster parents. “The foster parent community is very strong. I try to offer support and advice to foster families about their experience.”
The Turner* family of Glen Burnie began fostering in 2003 when a child they knew needed help. “We had a friend that had a child in a bad situation and asked us to consider fostering,” says Susan Turner*. “After completing training, that child did not come to us, but we soon got a phone call to foster two brothers.”
The boys, aged four and eleven months, arrived at the Turner household neglected and afraid. “Neither child could tolerate having a bath and they had never worn shoes before. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that children are dealing with this,” Turner says.
The boys thrived under the Turners’ care and were eventually sent to live with their biological family. The Turners then accepted two girls before they, too, were returned to their own families.
Before long, the Turners got a call asking them to accept a 3-month-old girl whose mother had signed away parental rights. “We were only supposed to keep her for the short term, as her grandmother was involved, but it soon became clear that we were going to be her long-term care providers.”
At eighteen months, the Turners were allowed to adopt their daughter, Lucy*. The family then received a call saying that the biological mother was pregnant again and would not be able to care for the baby. She wanted the Turners to adopt her new child and they agreed.
The Turners remained active foster parents for years until they adopted another set of siblings through the foster care system. Now the family provides support through the Respite Program, which provides short-term care to foster children on occasional weekends or during events when their foster families may have commitments.