Tue | Nov 12, 2019

Veteran foster parents would do it again and again

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:24 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
Mary Saunders is a picture of happiness with one of her foster children, Iana, during a visit to their home is St Elizabeth last Wednesday. Contributed
Sybil Watt (left) collects a plaque from members of the Child Protection and Family Services Agency as she urged Jamaican parents not to give up on their children. Contributed
Fredlin Tomlin and her foster-care son, Randy, who she took in at age six, share a loving moment outside their home in May Pen, Clarendon, on Valentine's Day. Contributed
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When newly married Mary Samuels and her husband, Winston, found out they could not have children of their own, the couple opted to become foster parents – a decision they would make again 56 years later if they are given the opportunity.

Mary Samuels, 77, was among three elderly foster mothers honoured by the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) last Thursday for offering their homes as sanctuaries to dozens of unfortunate children. Fredlin Tomlin, 80, and Sybil Watt, 88, were the others.

The ‘love stops’ were in recognition of National Foster Care Week, which ended yesterday, and the women were presented with baskets of supplies, plaques and special memorabilia from children they have fostered over the years.

“I don’t have any children and I don’t know if I came down (from heaven) for this purpose, but I can tell you for the long number of years … sometimes the road is rough, but when you look back, you see that you really have to play a role,” said Samuels.

A GIFT FROM GOD

Shortly after marriage at age 21, Mary and her husband, residents of Elderslie in north St Elizabeth, found out that they couldn’t have biological children. At that time, there was no access to fertility clinics, and Mary, a Christian, said she was not about to break her marital vow.

“We don’t know how or why we come into this world, and we must be guided by the Almighty,” said the septuagenarian. “Children are a gift, and although they are hard to look after, if you believe in God, nothing will hurt you,” she said, proudly listing the names of the children she fostered.

Unlike many foster parents who prefer infants or older kids, Mary Samuels is in love with babies, and has had the full backing of her husband over the decades.

Because of the rigorous and time-consuming process for full-fledged adoption, the CPFSA has been encouraging more Jamaicans to consider becoming foster parents, which has fewer hurdles because the tenure is temporary.

FOSTER-CARE APPLICATIONS GROWING

The agency reported last week that there are more than 70 children who are currently ready for placement in foster care, with others being prepared for the programme.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of persons coming forward to foster. We still have a lot of persons wanting to adopt children, but the applications for foster care are growing,” said Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer at the CPFSA, as she appealed for more caregivers for boys within the programme.

“We have been advocating for foster care because we see the benefit that foster care has, especially for our boys. It is about giving love to somebody who is not your own,” said Gage-Grey, citing the bonds formed between Tomlin and 29-year-old Randy Laws, whom she has fostered since he was six years old.

Tomlin, a resident of May Pen, Clarendon, was hailed as a queen by Laws, who is very understanding and non-judgemental. Tomlin has fostered more than five children.

“You have to take them with an open heart,” said the 80-year-old woman. “When you love your children, even when they are rude, you are still going to sit with them and guide them.

“You are still going to talk to them, tell them what you are expecting from them [and] how to behave.”

Meanwhile, Sybil Watt, a retired teacher and principal, warned parents never to give up on their children, despite the challenges. She has fostered more than 10 children.

“I don’t give up on children. I don’t, and it makes me feel great. It is only because they say that I’m too old to foster why I don’t do it. But I would do it now,” she said.

Outside of special conditions dependent on individual cases, the cut-off age for foster parents is 65.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com