||Toronto Globe & Mail|
||MOM'S DAY: FOSTER PARENTS TAKE SPOTLIGHT IN NEW BOOK|
In praise of 'other mothers' SIRI AGRELL Melanie Filiatrault has 42 children, not counting the three she gave birth to herself.
This Sunday, the 52-year-old Kelowna resident expects to receive Mother's Day calls from about 12 of the boys and girls she has provided foster care to over the past 20 years - kids she considers her own. "Even that one call from a child shows that you've made a difference in their life," said Ms. Filiatrault, who has a collection of Mother's Day cards and trinkets piled in her attic.
But while the children themselves express gratitude, some of Canada's approximately 35,000 foster families say their efforts go largely unnoticed by the rest of society, not just on the second Sunday in May, but throughout the year.
"If you go into it thinking you're going to get rewarded, you probably won't," Ms. Filiatrault said. "But if you go into it thinking you're going to make a difference in a child's life, it'll be worth it."
Yesterday, a group of Toronto-area foster parents gathered for a special audience with author and actress Victoria Rowell, who told them about the difference foster care made in her life.
Famous for her role as Drucilla Winters on the soap opera The Young and the Restless , Ms. Rowell has written a book, The Women Who Raised Me , chronicling the 18 years she spent in foster care in the United States before becoming a professional ballet dancer and, eventually, a daytime television star.
She wrote the book to pay tribute to those who wouldn't let her fall through the cracks, but also to celebrate all the "other mothers" - foster parents, social workers, mentors, aunts and grandmothers who often play a major role in a child's development.
"What they did was raise a child, collectively," she said. "There are millions of women who have done what these women did for me."
Among the women who raised Ms. Rowell was a 54-year-old housewife who took her in as an infant, but was told she could not keep a child who was half black. Another foster mother taught ballet to the dance-obsessed young Victoria out of a magazine.
Ms. Rowell had saved more than 500 letters from her various foster mothers, all of whom helped her get over the shame of not being raised by her biological parents.
Susan McDevitt, a social worker and executive director of the Federation of Foster Families of Nova Scotia, said she sees the same efforts being put forward by the 650 foster families in her province.
Most people who work with displaced young people, from foster parents to Children's Aid Society officials, are motivated by a love of kids. But, she said, many foster families still struggle with issues of negative public perception, fuelled by occasional news stories about abuse or neglect. While those cases are rare, Ms. McDevitt says it is still common to regard foster parents as service providers, not parents.
"They don't feel they're respected," she said.
There have been efforts to improve attitudes toward foster mothers and other caregivers. In 2002, the card maker American Greetings introduced a line of Mother's Day cards that acknowledged the "other mother" phenomenon of adoptive parents, aunts and role models.
"Because you're like a mother to me, I'm thinking of you," one card reads.
Ms. Filiatrault said she thinks of all her foster children on Mother's Day, no matter where they are now, scattered across the country.
"You always hope they're doing awesome," she said. "I'm just very pleased and honoured to have been their parent for a short period of time."