The Other Mother

May 31, 2011 | Updated Jul 31, 2011

Nestled between Mother's Day and Father's Day is National Foster Care Month, a time when we celebrate the love, caring, and sacrifices that mothers and fathers who care for other people's children make. These contributions shape, mold, and save the lives of children whose mothers and/or fathers have failed to provide the nurturing and safe upbringing that all children deserve and need.

These surrogate parents from all backgrounds step in to support and try to make life better for the 424,000 children of our child welfare system. In the process, these parents work to smooth over years of abuse, neglect, and separation to help a child reach their full potential. Along the way, these children have also had social workers, child protection officers, CASA volunteers, guardian ad litems, and judges filling in as parents. This dedicated group of professionals and volunteers comprise our nation's safety net.

Another group of "stand-in" parents are increasingly grandparents -- and other relatives. These unsung heroes are symbols of a growing movement of caregivers who are altering their life's plan to help raise their extended families. With more than 2.6 million grandparents raising their grandkids and hundreds of thousands more being raised by other relatives, kinship care has become a wonderful alternative for many children who can't live with their own parents. Of the children in foster care today, over a quarter are living with relatives at least temporarily. As a nation, by supporting and encouraging kinship care, we are helping increase their odds of growing up great.

In fact, this year, CWLA is paying tribute to those grandparents and other kin who are helping children face a brighter future through our Year of the Grandparent initiative, a year of educational and informational activities which highlight the growth in kinship care and showcase the improvements in child welfare policy and practice that have helped more children stay with family in lieu of entering foster care. The Year of the Grandparent celebrates these noble efforts to keep kin connected, but it also underscores the continued attention to child welfare to ensure that more children are protected and have options beyond foster care.

During National Foster Care Month, as we remember to thank the mothers and fathers in our lives who've given so much to help us achieve our dreams, let's also remember to recognize the mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and child welfare workers who've helped change a child's life by standing in when their parents couldn't. Words of thanks and gratitude or even a Mother's or Father's Day card are great ways to inspire and recognize these foster caregivers and workers.

Unfortunately, our nation has too many children who are celebrating Mother's and Father's Day without them, but thankfully there are many wonderful and generous people who are willing to share their lives, resources and homes with these children. I salute you. The selflessness of these "other mothers and fathers" is strengthening our nation.