Foster mom cares for more than 60 children over 22 years
DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Hundreds of photographs documenting the lives of dozens of children fill Fran Davis’ country home. Displayed on the refrigerator, in albums and on her iPad, the pictures captured everyday moments — of picnics, bike riding and afternoon naps — and milestone events — of first steps, first birthdays and first smiles.
“This was his first smile,” Davis said, pointing to the photograph of the blue-eyed infant staring up at the camera with a toothless grin. “We were sitting on the porch. I had been working with him for a while to get that first smile. Those are the best moments, the hugs and the smiles.”
During the past 22 years, the 70-year-old Moulton woman has served as a foster mother to more than 60 children and provided respite care to more than 40. Davis was waiting on May 13 for the next child to be placed in her care.
She has welcomed them all — white, black, Hispanic, biracial, infants born addicted to drugs and homeless children with scabies and head lice — into her heart and home.
“Every child that came in here was part of the family. A lot of people will tell you, they’re not yours, well, when they’re in our house, they’re ours,” Davis said.
Some stayed one night. Others stayed three years. She heard them say their first words and dropped them off for their first day of school.
“The worst thing other people say to you is, ‘I couldn’t do that because I’d get attached.’ Well, if you don’t get attached, you shouldn’t be doing it. Even with the meanest one you’ve got, you’re going to get attached. I still cry about the first ones I had,” said Davis, a mother of three, grandmother of four and great-grandmother of two.
Rifling through the mix of photographs of foster children and family members, Davis picked out a picture of a brown-haired 2-year-old girl — the first foster child that entered her home. She remembers the day like it happened last week, not 22 years ago.
“I went to another foster home to pick her up. I was so excited and so nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. She was 15 months old and stayed with us nine months. When she first came, she didn’t react to anything, but I was holding her one day and she hugged my neck, like a real big hug. That sent me over the moon,” Davis said.
Kevin Tolbert said his mother’s selfless actions impacted the entire family.
“Through her journey of doing this, the whole family was taught so much humility. When you hear their stories and see their faces, it really gets you,” Tolbert said. “Some of these kids, all they really want to be is loved. I’ve seen some kids blossom through her. You see kids react when they’re loved. She shows the children a love many had not been exposed to.”
Davis’ journey to fostering started when she and her late husband, Willard, who died in 2012, contacted the Department of Human Resources expressing concern about the treatment of two children they knew.
“When I called DHR, they told me if they picked them up, they didn’t have a place to put them. That’s when we realized we needed to do something. There are so many kids out there that need a safe, loving home,” Davis said.
After attending a seminar in Decatur, the Davises decided to become full-time foster parents. They took the children fishing, taught them how to ride bikes, introduced them to milkshakes, changed diapers, read bedtime stories and gave goodnight hugs.
Amid the joys, however, Davis also experienced heartbreak.
There was the 2-year-old girl unable to stand up and speak because her caretakers left her in a play pen and did not interact with her.
“She didn’t try to talk, she barked,” Davis said.
There were the twins, who, after being returned to relatives, went back into foster care at 12 years old. Davis knows the likelihood of families adopting 12-year-olds is slim.
And there is the now 21-year-old man who spent 2½ years living with the Davises.
“He was the second one we had. We got him when he was a year old. He went to an aunt. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. He is running the streets now. It breaks my heart,” Davis said.
Of the more than 60 foster children Davis cared for, only six went back to their parents, and three of those ended up back in foster care. The rest went to live with relatives or adoptive families.
In 2005, FACES, Families and Children Experiencing Separation, named Willard and Fran Davis foster parents of the year for Morgan County.
“Fran takes care of the children as if they are her own. She is the best at caring for infants and has cared for many of our drug-addicted babies. She is patient and kind,” said Margaret MacIlveen, FACES coordinator.
Davis nurtured the infants as they experienced the trembles of withdrawal, taught them how to eat and stayed up with them during crying fits at night.
Standing in the empty nursery with the dresser full of baby clothes and the crib decorated with the boy’s jungle-themed bedding — she has different linens for girls — Davis anxiously awaited the next baby in need of a mother’s touch, care and love.
“You get more out of it than you give. I’ve had my heart melted time and time again. Being able to care for these babies has been such a blessing,” Davis said.
For new foster parents, Davis offered this advice.
“Take it one day at a time and don’t stress over the little stuff. Just do the best you can. And when it comes time for them to go leave, it may feel like your heart is going to break, but it won’t. You’re not going to die from it. You think you’re going to, but you’re going to make it and another child will come into your home in need of love,” Davis said.
At any given time, FACES serves up to 200 children. Morgan County needs more foster families, MacIlveen said.