Labor of Love: Foster moms know this can be a difficult day for their charges

Foster mom Marquita Stokes at her Toledo home.
Foster mom Marquita Stokes at her Toledo home.

Children of all ages will shower their biological moms — and wise women who serve in the role of mother — with cards, presents, and flowers today for Mother’s Day. Some will remember mothers who are no longer with them.

Meanwhile, foster moms will perform a duty not widely considered on the day set aside to acknowledge our female progenitors and those who serve in that role.

With 395 children in about 250 foster homes in the Lucas County Children Services system, a lot of foster mothers today will ensure that the children they oversee remember their biological mothers.

During the last four years, Toledoans Darris and Marquita Stokes have fostered 12 children, from infancy to 12 years old. Their own two children are adults. They also have adopted a 9-year-old foster child, are in the process of adopting a 14-month-old, and care for another 9-year-old foster child.

“Usually I have a lot of conversation with them about their mom,” Mrs. Stokes said, adding that she encourages her foster children to make gifts and cards for their mothers. After all, “They still have a mother and they can still celebrate her, even though they are not with her at the time.”

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be difficult for foster children.

“They still love their parents and want to be back with their parents,” said Mrs. Stokes, a manager of a loan company. “Usually they are sad that they are not with their mothers for Mother’s Day, so I try to talk to them about it, to help them remember the good times, and encourage them to do positive things — such as put their thoughts down on a card — so when they do see their moms again, they have something to give her.

“It’s the same thing with Father’s Day. We talk about their dads and encourage them to make Father’s Day cards. We talk about things they have done with their fathers in the past. We focus on the positive,” she said.

The Stokeses still hear from children they have previously fostered. When she was growing up, an aunt who provided care inspired her to do the same.

“All the foster kids were like part of our family. They would visit with us and I just thought it was great. As I grew older and understood what she was doing, it was something I wanted to do also,” Mrs. Stokes said.

Caring for foster children can help them to become better people and help ensure that they make good decisions, she said.

“There are a lot of children who need someone to take care of them temporarily, to give them a safe home, to give them love and guidance and structure to help them through a difficult situation. As people have time and the love to give a child, that’s a good thing.”

Another foster mother resumed providing that care after her husband died. When her husband was living, Swanton resident Sue Bradford said they fostered children two separate times over a total of six years. In the last seven years, she has primarily provided respite and emergency care for nearly a dozen teenage girls.

“I feel it’s a gift from God. He’s given me a ton of patience,” said Mrs. Bradford, a retired nurse, who added that when it comes to teenage girls who often have a load of baggage, patience is a virtue. “It takes a special person and I couldn’t do it without God’s help. Not everyone can do it. People who don’t do it think you are crazy. I raised my granddaughter, and I didn’t like it when she grew up and wasn’t around.”

It’s a challenge to make sure a girl understands that she is not trying to take the place of a child’s biological mother. Though that’s less of an issue now, one foster girl was initially adamant about Mrs. Bradford’s role.

“You could see that in her mind she didn’t want me to tell her what to do, but that is less and less over the years,” she said.

Mrs. Bradford encourages her young charges to earn money to buy their mother a card. Some girls visits their moms weekly or monthly and look forward to those meetings. Sometimes, though, foster children show how much they appreciate foster parents. One young woman wrote a nice note inside a card about all that Mrs. Bradford has done for her.

“She loves her mother and has a relationship with her mother,” she said. Nevertheless, “I thought it was cool that she recognized me as her mom also.”

Mrs. Bradford takes the same approach to Father’s Day, making sure she talks to the girls about their dads. In fact, she has taken one teenager to visit the child’s father’s grave site.

While Lucas County Children Services officials say that every child who needs a placement has one, they are still recruiting foster families and especially need homes for infants.

“We’re looking for healthy, stable families and individuals who love children and have room in their hearts and their homes,” said Julie Malkin, public information officer.

Robin Reese, placement manager, said the time it takes to be licensed as a foster family is three to six months, depending on how motivated a family is. The process includes 36 hours of state-mandated training, a home inspection, criminal background check, and, if there are pets, their shot records must be up to date. Families also must take additional annual training.

While families are compensated for providing foster care, Ms. Reese said that is not a way to make money.

“I’ve been doing this for 29 years and I promise you, I have not run into too many people who do it for the money because it’s work,” Ms. Reese said.

“Most people do it because they want to give something back. You really are volunteers. It’s not a money-making venture. Believe it or not, our biggest need is for homes that will take babies. We are in desperate need for foster parents who are willing to foster babies.”

Contact Rose Russell at: or 419-724-6178.