On Fostering Children With an Open Heart and Mind

Non profit Meritan shares information on how best to consider fostering children

Barbara fostering children, playing chess.
Barbara Love with her foster child, courtesy of Meritan

Barbara Love has fostered 75 children in 26 years, including LGBTQ+ children.

“I love to make a difference,” said Barbara Love. “Caring for these children over the years has kept me young and vibrant.

Love explained she first became interested in fostering after learning a friend of hers had been mistreated as a child. “No child should feel unwanted,” Love said. After hearing her friend’s story, Love said, “I knew I needed to help.”

When she started fostering children as a single parent in 1997, she said she had no idea what she was doing. “I just took whoever they needed me to,” adding she’s fostered children ranging from six years old to 18. “Some of the children were supposed to be here a week and ended up being here for well over a year. The longest I’ve had a child is two and one-half years,” Love said.

In addition to fostering children of all ages, Love has also fostered several LGBTQ+ children over the years.

“When you bring a child into your home,” Love said, “you have to have an open mind and let them express who they are.” She said of her LGBTQ+ children: “You just love them like everyone else and let them open up to you. You let them know you’re here just to love them. Not to judge them or hurt them… just to love them. All they want is to be loved and accepted.”

She said one LGBTQ+ young man she fostered is now a fashion designer. “He told me when he came to me that no one would accept him,” Love said. “I allowed him to be his full self, loved him for who he was, told him to follow his dreams and now he’s a fashion designer.” 

With all the children, Love said, “you just have to have an open mind and open heart. I show them they are not just the product of their environment. I show them how to live, give them life skills and let them know they are worthy and important.”

“When you bring a child into your home, you have to have an open mind and let them express who they are.”

She said she can’t let herself dwell on the sadness and hurt many of the children have suffered. “I can’t dwell on the sadness,” she said, “because these kids are scared and just need to be loved. All a child wants is love from somebody. There’s no need to dwell on their pasts, no need to do anything but love them. They’ve already been through enough.”

Love explained she’s been fortunate to have had minimal problems with her foster children over the years, even though she’s fostered some children who have had behavioral and other challenges. “It’s all about giving them love. When you do, they’ll listen to you… you redirect but still love. And always have candy.”

A mother of two adult children, Love also adopted two of her foster daughters along the way. One daughter came to her when she was ten, Love adopted her when she was 15 and she is now 22. The second daughter, Markiva, came to Love when she was six and will soon turn 11.

Barbara Love smiles wearing pearls and a silk white shirt.
Barbara Love, courtesy Meritan

“When Markiva came to me she was very shy and withdrawn,” Love said. “Today, she is on the dance team, making great grades… It’s been amazing to watch her grow and change. She calls me ‘Gigi’ and says she knows I’m her family now and always will be.”

Love stays in touch with many of her foster children, not just the ones she adopted. “Five of them think they are my children,” Love said proudly, adding that one of the young men is in the Air Force and “I go to his events and he comes to see me every time he is in town.”

She explained when she started fostering she was with a different agency. But after a few years, switched to Meritan and she’s been very pleased. “Meritan has been 100 percent great,” Love said. “The counselors are amazing and always available. Everything about my experience with Meritan has been wonderful.”

Love, 53, also just started her second year of teaching fifth-grade reading and plans to continue fostering children. “I guess I just can’t get enough,” she laughed.

“People ask me about it all the time,” Love said, “because they see me with all these different children. When I tell them my story, they ask me how they can be a part. I always encourage them to consider fostering. There are so many children in the system and we just can’t leave them there.”

Fostering With Meritan: Providing a Home of Healing and Refuge for a Child

There is a great need for foster parents in Shelby County right now and Meritan encourages all families to consider fostering.

“There are so many children waiting,” said Wallace Moore, who oversees foster parent recruiting, training and supervising for Meritan. “There is such a great need.”

Moore explained that to foster, you need to be at least 25 years of age, have an appropriate space and have consistent income. He said the agency welcomes everyone to apply to foster, including single individuals, married couples and LGBTQ+ individuals and families. He said Meritan works hard to match foster families with children to ensure the best possible outcome.

“We look for the best fit for the children and the families,” he said, “and we provide ongoing support along the way.”

Meritan, which is a therapeutic foster care provider, also provides extensive training for foster families before they bring children into their homes. The training is customized to address the specific needs of the child.

“Parents receive specialized training about how to best meet the needs of the child,” Moore said. “For example, if the child has special medical needs, if they need to go to therapy or if they need help in school. And Meritan is very supportive at every step of the process.” He added that each family and child is given a case manager who works closely with the family to coordinate services and meet whatever needs the family and child have.

“We support foster families in every way we possibly can,” Moore said. “Because these children need a loving, safe place to call home where they can start to heal and we want to help make every placement successful for both the child and the foster family.”


Visit meritan.org/foster-care or call 901-766-0600