By ANNE RAPPE
When Linda talks about her foster children, she sounds very much like the proud mother, sharing success stories from more than 20 years of fostering abused children for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
Anita’s story can be included in these successes. Before meeting Linda, 12-year-old Anita was living in a group home, feeling alone and out of sorts. Anita didn’t feel she belonged at home, because she’d been abused by her father. She had never felt she belonged anywhere.
When Anita heard about Linda and her husband from another youth who had been fostered by them, she asked to be placed in their home. Linda believes that every child can succeed and this forms the basis of her parenting philosophy. She exposes her foster children to a wide variety of activities and experiences until something clicks for them. She believes that every child can excel at something. Not be the best in the world, but be better than most of the kids around them.
They started Anita off with rowing, which she enjoyed, but she felt she didn’t fit in. Then volleyball. She didn’t take to that either. In high school she discovered community service, and that was her hook. As part of a school project, Anita raised money to visit Tanzania where she helped build a windmill to supply water to a village and handmade bricks for a new school. Anita won the Governor General’s Award for her community work in Tanzania and she has a stack of other awards for community service.
Linda has a remarkable capacity for compassion which led to a degree in social work, then a job with CAS Toronto. Eventually, she quit to raise her three sons, and then returned to child welfare work with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society.
Linda’s second foster child, Marian, had been physically abused by her father. After coming into CCAS care, Marian was unhappy with her initial foster home. Linda was contacted to inquire if she and her husband would be willing to consider fostering Marian. Linda asked them to bring Marian for a visit so that they could meet. After the meeting Linda invited Marian to return for dinner the following week. Before leaving, Marian asked Linda if she noticed that she was different – that she was Black. Linda replied that she did not notice that Marian was different – but she did notice that she was Black.
Marian eventually moved into Linda’s home; she was withdrawn and depressed. Eventually, Marian started trusting Linda and Chip (whom she now calls Mom and Dad). Building trust took lots of patience, energy and care.
Marian had never had a hug and Linda likes to hug: “You’re one of my children now and the bottom line is that I hug a lot.” Marian had a hard time with that. Now, Marian gives the best hugs of anybody in the world – but it took her a long time.
Linda began to introduce Marian to a variety of new activities. One day Marian showed Linda track and field ribbons she had won in grade four – she had won everything she entered, she told Linda.
However, a spinal injury had prevented Marian from continuing with sports. Linda decided to arrange an appointment with a sports medicine doctor. After six months in a back brace, Marian started running again, winning races and, eventually, a university track scholarship.
Linda always stresses the importance of developing or maintaining ties with the biological families, whenever possible. She recalls Marian’s distress when she told them she had located her mother. Marian was afraid that Linda would be hurt by this. Linda assured her that meeting her mother wouldn’t change anything.
Linda and her husband travelled to Marian’s graduation, where they met her mother and her grandmother, who offered them Ghanaian robes and invited them to Ghana.
Whether they are your biological or foster children, parenting has its share of stresses and challenges. According to Linda, that’s when a positive attitude and creativity come into play. No problems are insurmountable. Linda believes that there are solutions to most problems and if one thing doesn’t work, then try something different.
Eventually, even the most devoted foster parents entertain the notion of retirement. Linda has ‘retired’ from fostering several times over the years. But CCAS keeps calling her with a new opportunity, a new life to change. Linda just cannot say no to helping children.
Linda is your Children’s Aid.
Anne Rappe is the Manager of Communications for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.