By LaKeshia Myers
Family is one of the most important aspects of my life. Both of my parents come from large families and special occasions are always filled with lots of great food, laughs and catching up with all of my cousins. Trust, it would probably take me hours to count all of my cousins! Nevertheless, one of my favorite summer traditions is attending the biennial family reunion. On my mother’s side of the family, reunions are large, well-planned events that span two to three days with activities for guests aged eight to eighty.
Several years ago, my cousin Annetta and her husband arrived to our family reunion with a surprise. Everyone was eager to know what the surprise would be, so when they arrived, we all wanted to know, “What’s the surprise?” Typical of children, we all thought it would be a new four-wheeler, extra fireworks for the annual battle with the kids across the road or some other gadget we could play with. But when they arrived, we noticed that in addition to their three boys, they had a little girl with them. Annetta turned to us and said, “Kids, this is Emma—she is our foster child, introduce yourselves and welcome her to the family.” This was my first experience meeting a child in foster care.
While I didn’t understand fully then, I later learned what it meant to be a foster parent. According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF), foster care is, “home-like care provided by licensed foster parents for children who cannot live with their parents because they are unsafe, have special care or treatment needs that their parents are unable to manage, other circumstances resulting in their parents or family being unable to care for them” (DCF, 2020). It was only many years later that I would think of this memory and understand the sacrifice Annetta and her husband made to consciously open their hearts and their family to foster little Emma.
In my first term as a state legislator, I had the opportunity to sit on the Adoption Task Force. On the task force, we heard from social workers, foster parents, tribal leaders, adoptive parents and adults who had experienced foster care as youths discussed the positives and negatives associated with Wisconsin’s child welfare system. I learned that placement in foster care is usually temporary and gives families time to make necessary changes so the child can safely live in his or her home and community. What was troubling to me were the number of youths in foster care across our state and the lack of available foster parents, especially in Milwaukee County, the state’s largest county.
Like Emma, most children in foster care return home to their families, which is called reunification. When children cannot return home, they find permanence through adoption, guardianship or other means. Because May is National Foster Care Month, I remember my dearly departed cousin Annetta and encourage individuals who are willing and able to consider becoming foster parents to local youth. Annetta’s legacy of unconditional love to all is something I will always remember and this was on full display in the love her family shared with her foster daughter Emma so many years ago.