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Angels Foster Family

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Cathy Richman noticed a disturbing trend during her five years as a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in San Diego’s foster care system.

“Too many kids were not getting the attention they needed,” says Richman, who advocated for
17 children as a CASA volunteer.

Richman spent most of her time trying to find quality placements, and wondered if she might direct her efforts more effectively. She also learned that the first two years of a child’s life are critical — it’s when they begin to empathize and bond — yet infants are often bounced around the foster system.

“The idea is that they’re young and won’t remember and it doesn’t matter. But when they don’t have good attachments, that part of their brain simply doesn’t develop.”

Eleven years ago, Richman founded Angels Foster Family Network, a fully licensed nonprofit that since has placed nearly 400 infants and toddlers in loving homes throughout S.D. County.

Cynthia Davis first heard about Angels last year, and knew right away that she and her husband would be a perfect fit. Davis, 40, has three boys of her own who are nearly out of the house. “I have an empty nest,” Davis says. “And I still have so much left in me to give.”

Her children gave her their go-ahead, and she and her husband attended the Angels’ orientation and training. They agreed to take on siblings, who tend to be especially hard to place.

Angels’ foster parents must be willing to commit to two years of care — the time it takes to form healthy attachments — though duration varies by situation. Parents are supported by Angels’ social workers and receive a small stipend from the county. Any medical costs, which can soar in the case of battered children, are covered by Medi-Cal.

Davis concedes that there are countless challenges to being a foster parent. “The children often don’t have roots or boundaries or proper building blocks.”

Her greatest fear as a foster parent is reversal — kids whose improvements in emotional and physical wellbeing revert when they are returned to their biological families. She says she’s done her best to help educate their parents on healthy childrearing. For many potential foster parents, however, the biggest fear is falling in love with a baby that is not theirs to keep. (Though some families end up adopting, the majority of cases involve shorter-term care.)

“We’re very honest and straight-forward about what to expect,” says Richman, whose organization is funded entirely by private donations. “We look for people who say, ‘This is a gift I’m going to give to a child and back to society.’”

“If you’re doing this for yourself, thinking there’s something missing in your family, then you’re going to get hurt,” says Davis. “But if you’re doing this to help the children, it’s the most selfless thing anybody could ever do.” (619/283-8100, www.angelsfoster.com)    ANNAMARIA STEPHENS

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