Carol Springer occasionally runs into a child of hers on the street, all grown up and glad to reconnect. They tend to recognize her more than she recognizes them, she said, because they’ve changed so much since the childhood years when Springer was their mom.
Their foster mom, that is.
Springer says there have been just under 660 of them across the past 37 years, so chance meetings are not that rare.
Springer, 69, is being honored for her extraordinary commitment to foster parenting – especially for medically fragile or special-needs children – with a Caring Heart award from Innovative Services Northwest. That’s a homegrown nonprofit agency that trains, educates and advocates for people of all ages with disabilities.
‘We’ll show you’
Springer started out as the champion baby sitter of her Orchards neighborhood, she said. After she married and had three children of her own, she started her own formal day care business – and discovered she needed a license. That led her to the Department of Social and Health Services. And DSHS led her to fostering the neediest children she’d ever seen.
Some had just been removed from abusive homes by police or social workers. Some were awaiting needed surgery or were recovering from it. Across 37 years of fostering, four children actually died on Springer’s watch. Investigations followed.
Why take on these profoundly challenged children, with all the accompanying troubles and heartaches? Because of the desperate need and the satisfaction of filling it.
“They had such sweet personalities. They were always appreciative,” she said. “I loved getting the ‘failure to thrive’ kids. It was like, ‘We’ll show you what we can do.’ ”
Many of the children stayed for weeks or months, but some stayed for years, she said. She and her husband adopted three as their own. And Springer has facilitated more legal adoptions by loving families she knows.
Springer’s favorite example of a foster child who arrived as an iffy infant and thrived beautifully is one she adopted as her own daughter: Tiffany, now 27.
“She shouldn’t be here,” Springer said. Born three months premature, Tiffany’s prognosis wasn’t good. “You could hold her in the palm of my hand, she was so tiny,” Springer said.
That tiny girl proved a fighter, and the Springers legally adopted her when she was 1. Tiffany grew up to be Springer’s right-hand woman, tending the children – and sometimes Mom, as well.
“She was always there to help with the kids. She’s done as much for me as I ever did for her,” Springer said.
“Carol is the walking, talking proof of the impact of early invention,” said Kathy Deschner, Innovative Services’ vice president for development and marketing. The agency provides pediatric therapies of all sorts – speech, occupational, physical and educational.
Currently, six children live in the Springer home, ages 9 months to 24 years, plus Springer and her husband, who’s 79 years old and looking for a job after being laid off. There’s also an infant staying at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, where Springer frequently visits.
Her day begins at 6 a.m., getting the kids ready for Yale Elementary School – where individualized attention is excellent, she said. She sometimes drives upward of 100 miles a day, between medical and therapeutic appointments, legal visitations with parents and the day-to-day staffing of an overfull house.
“The laundry is ridiculous,” Springer said. “If I let it go for one day, we’d be buried.”
Pay and support for foster parenting used to be a lot more generous, Springer said.
“It’s getting harder and harder,” Springer said. “If you’re in it for the money, forget it. But I can’t imagine not doing it. I don’t know what I would do.”