Keema Davis of Jamaica, New York, has gone full circle in more ways than one.
As a foster care alumna, she knows the fear and distrust that can surface in rebelling against adults, and what it feels like to make a life-long connection with a foster parent.
She also knows how it feels to be a child welfare professional working with youth in the system, helping them find forever families.
“I know the difference having a forever family can make,” Davis said. “I just want that for all the children in care now.”
Davis is the Wednesday's Child Program coordinator for the Freddie Mac Foundation, working on segments that are aired during the news on WNBC Channel 4 in New York.
The segments feature children living in foster care who are legally available for adoption. Additionally, she lists all the children featured on the program on AdoptUSKids.
“I get most of my inquiries from AdoptUSKids,” she said. “A lot of people go to the website.”
Davis' job enables her to do her part, and she brings with her a unique point-of-view, because she knows the anxieties the children are experiencing.
“It does give me some credibility,” she said, especially when the children express their fear of being embarrassed by the attention of their status being made public.
“I understand that,” she said. “I didn't want my friends to know I was in care. I can completely relate to the concerns they have.”
She also knows the discouragement a child can feel as they grow up in the system.
“I found my mom when I was 14. There is no age limit to finding a parent. You shouldn't feel foolish that you still want a family, at whatever age you are. There is always something, a graduation, a prom, a wedding. You are going to want someone who cares about you to be there.”
Davis' own story is one foster youth can relate to, but it also is an example of what can happen when a young person makes a life-long connection with a caring adult.
Davis and her two sisters and two brothers were placed into foster care when her mother lost custody the day before Davis' 10th birthday. Davis' father had been murdered the year prior.
She wasn't expecting a big party for her birthday, but she also wasn't expecting her life to be turned upside down.
“We were quite poor. If there was going to be a party, it would be something at our house, if anything. But I was particularly upset because the next day was my birthday.”
The first two placements failed, the second of which after a foster parent acted inappropriately and Davis made clear she thought so. Davis left that second home at age 14 with what she describes as a chip on her shoulder.
“By that time I had convinced myself that the adults in my life did not have my best interest at heart. In fact, I did not think anyone cared what happened to me at all,” Davis remembers. “I told myself that if this placement ended, it would be on my terms. I would be leaving because I wanted to and not because I was being kicked out. Little did I know that I had met my match.”
The woman who would take her in would ultimately be the person Davis counts as her “heart mommy,” believing she carried Davis in her heart rather than her womb.
“I was really pushing it with her,” Davis said of her behavior.
At 15, Davis was hospitalized.
“I thought that I had really done it,” she said. “I really thought I had messed up. But she was there every day at the hospital.”
Her foster mom brought bedding and other things from the house to make her stay more comfortable. And she spent countless hours at Davis’ bedside.
“I felt so loved,” Davis said.
Although the process was gradual, and took all her strength, Davis changed her life.
“It just clicked for me,” she said.
She committed herself to her school work and graduated at the top of her class. Knowing that somebody cared about her made the difference she said.
“I appreciated what she was doing,” Davis said. Although life continued to present her with challenges, she always had her mom to lean on.
At 17 Davis was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder. She had been accepted into college, but Davis' mom wanted her to commute and continue living at home in case she got sick. When she was 19 her birth mother died.
But Davis persevered. She received a bachelor's degree in communications in 2003 and a master’s in communications in 2004. She moved out on her own when she was 24, and later earned a Master of Business Administration in management in 2008.
Even though she has three college degrees, a career, and an apartment, she still needs and has her mom.
“I still call her, I still go over there every other weekend,” Davis said. “She is still mom.”
AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Children’s Bureau and has been in operation since 2002 by the Adoption Exchange Association under a cooperative agreement (grant #90CQ0003). The mission of AdoptUSKids is two-fold: to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and to assist U.S. States, Territories, and Tribes to recruit and retain foster and adoptive families and connect them with children.