Sherrie Miller, who has been a foster mother for 13 years, is a believer in reunification of children with their biological parents. It’s the foundation of foster care, she says, and she thinks the best place for children is almost always with their parents.
“Anything I can do, and the court can do, needs to be done,” she said. “We need to push to get the parents and kids back together.”
She says that, as a foster mother, she always tries her hardest to work with the birth parents, “to let them know how important it is to do what they need to do to get their kids back. Sometimes they don’t realize that, but it’s for the child’s sake.”
Sherrie says she takes the honesty approach.
“If she’s doing something wrong, I let her know,” she said about biological mothers. “I say, ‘You need to get it together.’ I talk to her like I do to my own daughter. I say, ‘Do this, do that, stop it, whatever.’ And because I’m older, they usually respect me,” she said with a laugh.
Sherrie is proud of the recent success she had in reunifying three boys, ages 6, 7 and 8, with their biological father. She has mostly worked with teenage boys and pregnant girls, so she was hesitant at first to take kids so young.
Her first meeting with them was at a McDonald’s.
“And they were just flipping! Like someone gave them espresso! Something in the back of my head said, ‘Sherrie you are nuts! You’ll be sorry!’ But they were so cute, so I said let’s give it a try.”
When the boys came into her home, she told herself she is always up for a challenge. “And this is gonna be a challenge!”
She described the first couple days as chaotic.
“They’re boys and they liked to take things apart, out of curiosity,” she said.
They dug up the dirt in her yard, pulled out her flowers and even picked neighbors flowers, which they brought to her.
“Luckily it was summer, so they could play outside, and they really blended with the neighborhood kids.”
Sherri knew, however, that more than outdoor play was going to be needed. So she created lots of activities for the children. She’d do a Bingo night, awarding prizes to them. She’d give them an allowance that they could spend at the dollar store when they behaved well.
“And they were jealous of each other, especially of the middle one, because he was the most focused and bright. So, I had to make sure my attention was balanced. So I’d focus on each of their talents, to give them a balance of attention.”
The youngest was a great, expressive story teller, the middle one was very good at explaining things, particularly from the documentaries he’d watch on TV, and the oldest was good with his hands, taking things apart and putting them back together.
“There was a lot of juggling!” Sherrie said.
By the time school started, the boys were getting kicked off the bus because of fighting with each other. So, Sherrie had to take them to and from school in addition to going to her part-time job.
But she kept working with them. And with their parents, who were not with each other.
The boys’ mother had a difficult time with their behavior, and she had issues with drugs and alcohol. A few months after she took the boys in, Sherrie also got placement of their 2-year-old sibling. After the mother relapsed, the court decided the father was the one with whom the boys should ultimately be reunified.
“I had a great relationship with him, and he did what he needed to do to get himself together,” Sherrie said. “And as a man, he was better able to control the boys. And they wanted to be with him.”
The father backed Sherrie completely in the routines she set for the boys and any discipline she had to mete out. He gave her the boy’s allowance to give to them. He took them to church regularly.
“Between the two of us, we got things under control. And he was always supportive and friendly and honest about what he was doing. He had issues with drugs and alcohol, and he’d tell me about his past and how he was doing well now.”
Sherrie said that no matter what a parent has done in the past, she sincerely believes they love their children, so she wants to help them in any way she can.
“There is nothing worse than being separated from your child.”
And although kids can be a handful when they first enter the child welfare system, “whatever issues they have, they can work through them. They do grow up and get better. I’m living proof of that! I’ve seen them change their behavior.”
When it came time for the reunification, Sherrie joined the family in a party. But their leaving was bittersweet.
“I was glad they are at least with one of their parents. But I do miss them, and it was very quiet around here. Almost too quiet.”
Sherrie said she missed the activities they all had together and the fun times. She laughed remembering a time when the boys made cookies, sneezing all over their hands during the process, dropping dough on the floor then picking it up and re-using it, and licking off decorations they didn’t like, then re-decorating the cookies.
“They said, ‘Miss Sherrie, do you want to try our cookies?’ I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so I just said, ‘I’ll just eat them a little bit later.’ “
Sherrie is still in touch with the boys and both their parents.
“I like to see how they’re doing.”
And as for a too-quiet house? After her success with young boys, she took in two little girls, ages 5 and 6. She hopes these children will be reunited with their family as well.
“At the end of the day, although they appreciate being in a good foster home and they appreciate what you do, like they say, there’s no place like home and there’s no one like mom and dad.”