On the couch in their Waterboro home, Barb Childs sits with Wyatt, 14, Landen, 11, and Gavin, 7, on Friday. Childs is adopting the three boys. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

It was nothing short of an epiphany.

One day last summer, Barb Childs looked out the window at a trio of boys playing in her yard on New Dam Road in North Waterboro.

All brothers – Wyatt, now 14, Landen, 11, and Gavin, 7 – they’d lived with Childs for more than a year as foster children, gladly trading what had been tumultuous lives for this peaceful, comfortable home in the woods of western York County.

Now, there stood Childs, 54, already the single mother of three adult children and grandmother of four, embracing a realization that would change all of their lives.

“I can’t imagine my life without these boys,” she thought to herself.

May is Foster Care Month. That may not mean much to some people – there are, after all, days, weeks and months for just about everything.

But for people like Childs, it’s a very big deal. It’s a chance to remind the world that right here, right now, there are kids who through no fault of their own have been robbed of their childhood. Kids who, in the absence of parents who can take care of them, can only hope that someone, somewhere will someday fill the void.

“Before we came in here, we were living with our aunt and uncle, and then we were living with our other aunt and uncle,” Wyatt, the oldest, recalled during an interview on Friday. “And it was kind of stressful.”

And now?

“Fun,” Wyatt replied.

“Happy,” chimed in Landen.

“Funny!” said Gavin, the house comedian.

The last time I spoke with Childs back in 2016, she was a volunteer with the Crisis Text Line, a national network that helps people experiencing mental health crises through text messages rather than phone calls.

She also volunteered as a guardian ad litem with Maine CASA, short for Court Appointed Special Advocates, representing the interests of abused and neglected children as they navigated the state’s court system.

But Childs, who works in her day job as a municipal tax assistant with a South Portland accounting firm, wanted to do even more. Through her experience with children and the courts, she’d often marveled at the heroic work performed by foster parents. So, in 2018, Childs set about becoming one herself.

It wouldn’t be easy: At the time, Maine had a rule prohibiting people from simultaneously serving as guardian ad litem and a foster parent. Childs successfully petitioned the court system to change the rule – she would serve as a guardian ad litem only in Cumberland County as a foster mom only in York County.

On the porch at their Waterboro home, Barb Childs sits with Wyatt, 14, top left; Landen, 11, left; and Gavin, 7, on Friday. Childs is adopting the three boys. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Finally, after passing all the inspections and completing a six-week training program, she took on the new role that would forever change her life.

Wyatt and Gavin arrived that November. Landen followed in March of 2019.

The details of what brought them to Barb remain private. But in an email following the interview, Barb wrote: “What I can say is that the boys’ living situation with their parents was not safe and appropriate. They agreed. … Some people may think they abandoned their children, but I think they did one of the most selfless things a parent could do in their situation, which is to allow someone else to love and care for their children and give them the lives they were unable to.”

Her graceful demeanor permeates the home, a tidy, four-bedroom cape surrounded by woods with Lake Arrowhead just a short bike ride away. On one living-room wall hangs a framed print that simply says, “Relax.” On an adjacent wall, another hanging advises, “Be Good to People.”

There have been rough spots, as there are with any foster placement. The COVID-19 pandemic, coming on the heels of a new environment, didn’t make things any easier.

But as the months passed, this most unlikely family grew closer.

The boys did their assigned household chores – bringing the laundry down from upstairs, feeding the cats, taking the trash out to the end of the driveway on pickup day. In return, they got what had eluded them for so long – a sense that they belonged somewhere, that they were no longer a problem in search of a solution, that they could trust this woman, a complete stranger, to bring calm to their stormy lives.

According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, 2,207 children and teens under the age of 18 were in the department’s custody as of May 6. Of those, 953 – 43 percent – currently are placed with relatives, well above the national average of 32 percent.

The rest go to people like Childs – some for a short time, others for a lifetime. Over a two-year period ending in March, the number of foster homes in Maine rose 28 percent from 1,332 to 1,711, including a remarkable 11 percent increase during the pandemic. To find out more about joining them, call A Family for ME at 844-893-5311.

In an email, Toddy Landry, director of the DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, called Maine’s foster parents “the glue that holds together the child welfare system.”

“We extend our gratitude to Maine’s foster families and welcome new families to join us in caring for Maine children in need,” Landry said.

Childs exemplifies that commitment. In addition to the three brothers, she’s taken in two other boys and a girl for shorter stays over the past two-plus years.

“All teens,” Childs said of the others. “And I’m still in contact with two of them.”

Meaning she’s good at this. So good that when the brothers’ caseworker tentatively asked almost a year ago if she might be interested in adoption, Childs thought about it long and hard until, that day looking out her window, it suddenly made perfect sense.

“It was summertime,” she recalled. “Gavin was riding his bike, Wyatt had a friend over and Landen was (also) outside. And I’m just standing there watching them be boys. And it was like, ‘They can’t leave.’”

After telling the caseworker she was all in, Childs approached the boys – not to tell them she planned to adopt them, but to ask how they felt about becoming a permanent family.

Their reply: an immediate and unanimous “Yes!”

The formal proceeding will take place in about a month.

“We’re going to do a Zoom adoption,” Childs said. In addition to the presiding judge, the DHHS attorney and the boys’ guardian ad litem, “we’re going to have their teachers, their counselor at school, my family members, a lot of my friends. … We’re going to try and see if we can get it on the big TV somehow.”

Wyatt nodded confidently. “We can,” he said. “Your laptop has an HDMI port in it, so you can plug into the TV and set up the laptop so the camera…”

“And I will let you do that,” Barb said with a chuckle, adding with a hint of maternal pride, “He’s my IT guy.”

Cuddled close to Childs on the couch, Landen took it all in like a kid who just woke up to find his dream had come true. A home, a loving parent and now their own Zoom show. Looking up at his mom-to-be, he said, “You know what we can call it?”

“What?” she replied.

“The Childs Family!”

Let’s hear it for the miracle workers.


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