Parenting is hard. And parenting someone else's kids is even harder, as any foster care provider can tell you.
But for Doris Poole, it's been her life's work: "Everybody says, 'Oh, you don't want this. You don't want that.' I say, 'Oh, yes I do.' "
Poole is 84 and still yearning to bring another child into her life. The St. Paul woman has taken in more than 40 kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers over the course of 40 years, on top of raising six children of her own. She is one of the longest-serving foster care providers in the state. Ramsey County recently honored her for her service to children.
It’s a difficult adjustment for some who arrive at her doorstep scared, lonely and struggling to trust the adults in their lives. The older kids, she said, are often angry when they show up — angry at the foster parents and at the social workers who put them in foster care.
Her approach: remain calm and reassure kids they still have their parent or parents, but that she's there to help. She also lets them ease into her routine and bring a little of their own lives — even cooking their favorite meals for the rest of the family.
There have been times when she has fostered five kids in her home at a time. Some have stayed for just a few weeks. Others grew into adults and moved out on their own.
Poole said she always tried to keep her foster children at the same school they attended before they came to her house, to help keep some stability in their lives. And when Sunday rolled around, she took them to her church, where she's been a regular for decades.
“I love kids,” Poole said. “All the kids at the church, they call me grandma.”
And that's what dozens of foster kids have called her, too.
Tikonwaun Blackamore, who goes by Tiki, is among them. She was 13 when she and her brother were taken away from their mother in 1985.
“I wouldn't wish [the experience] on an enemy. I really wouldn't,” she said.
After a year in temporary care, they moved in with Poole.
“To experience that and go through something so horrific from our point of view, and to be able to have someone who is so stable, and so consistent and nurturing, that's what I got from her,” Blackamore said of Poole. “It changed my life.”
Decades later, Blackamore works just a few blocks away from Poole's home as a counselor at the High School for Recording Arts. She still talks to Poole regularly and even occasionally stops in for dinner.
Poole's ongoing relationship with her foster children is a testament to how important foster care providers can be for the kids who need them, said Anne Barry, director of social services for Ramsey County.
“She has children who are still in her life, who are well into adulthood and probably have children and grandchildren of their own. And they're still part of her family,” Barry said. “She created families.”
At any given time, Ramsey County has about 1,000 kids in foster care.
The agency focuses first on keeping families together, so most foster kids stay with extended family or family friends, said Barry, who is also a foster parent. But the next best option, she said, are people like Poole, who consistently take in children, year after year.
“With a lot of love in her heart and a great capacity to care for and nurture children,” said Barry.
Poole's most recent foster child moved out about a year ago, but she's hoping to make room for another. Some of her foster kids are trying to plan a reunion this summer, and Poole said she would love to see them all together.