She got Spencer the day he was born almost three years ago — right after the young woman who had carried him to birth left the hospital without him. Safe surrender, they call it.
I’ll take him, Shadonna Bell said, when the phone call came from her foster care social worker. I’ll give him all the love and compassion he can take. And if you need me to give another foster care child a home, don’t hesitate to call.
This is how you become an “Unsung Hero” in the eyes of the people who work for the Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angeles County. This is why they stand and clap as you’re awarded one of foster care’s highest honors, “Unsung Hero,” as Shadonna was last week at the Santa Clarita DCFS office.
They’ve got a tough job to do, and foster care moms, like Shadonna, make them sleep better at night knowing the dozens of foster children in their charge are safe and cared for while the search goes on for permanent homes for them. She makes the system work.
“Growing up I always had someone there for me, in my corner, loving me and guiding me,” Shadonna said. “These kids don’t. I want to be that someone in their corner.”
A 37-year-old, single woman, she’s been doing foster care for six years — taking in six young children at intervals during that time, and adopting one, Spencer. It can get emotional when one of them leaves you for a permanent home, but this is the end game everybody wants to see.
“It’s very tough. You make that bond and connection with them, but you always want to see kids reunified with their parents, as two of my kids were. It’s a painful moment to see them go, but a joyful one, at the same time.”
In 2022, of the 7,700 children who exited the L.A. County child welfare system, 3,880 were reunified with their parents.
“Some people think fostering a child is too much work,” Shadonna said. “No, it’s a blessing. It has brought me so much joy. But make sure if you’re going to do it, you go in 100%.
“You treat these kids like your own,” she said. “You show them love and compassion, give them something they don’t have. You’re changing their lives forever.”
And, they’re changing yours. The two foster kids living with her now are 9 and 4 years old. Mornings are getting the 9-year-old ready for school, then taking the 4-year-old, and Spencer, who turns 3 next month, to work with her at the KinderCare in Santa Clarita.
At night, it’s dinner together, a bath and bed at a set time. “There’s a lot of structure during the week, but on the weekend we have fun,” she laughed.
“I always try to make sure they’re doing something on weekends, even if it’s only going to Chuck E. Cheese. At least they know the weekend’s here and they’re about to have fun.”
Mother’s Day is here and Shadonna will spend it with her mom and her sister, and all the kids for a paint and sip day. There’ll be a lot of sipping lemonade and laughing because it’s the weekend, and the “Unsung Hero” of foster care always makes sure her kids have fun on weekends.
It’s a big part of being a mom in their corner.
For more information, call the Foster and Adoption Recruitment line at 888-811-1121. dcfs.lacounty.gov/caregivers/become-a-foster-parent/
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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