LAURINBURG — As a one-time foster mother to 18 Scotland County children, Joyce McMillan has a bigger family than most.
Though they may only be in her care for a few months or years, each one of McMillan’s foster children is, to her, as good as her own.
“It’s not a job; I love those children just like I birthed them,” she said. “I don’t discriminate: I don’t care what color they are or whose they are. When they come in my house, they’re mine.
“I’m not going to lie and say every day was a sunshiny day, but … it’s worth it.”
When McMillan moved from New York in 2009, she had already been a foster parent for five years — following in her own mother’s footsteps.
“Every child she got I wanted to keep,” McMillan said. “I cried when the children left.”
On Tuesday, the Scotland County Department of Social Services presented McMillan with the Edge Award, recognizing her as an exemplary foster parent at its annual foster parent appreciation banquet at Laurinburg Presbyterian Church.
Social work supervisor Jennifer Byrd applauded McMillan for her tireless efforts to keep families involved in her foster children’s lives.
“She has done a lot with the families of the children that have been in her home: inviting parents to her home for holiday meals, meeting them in the community, inviting families to her church,” said Byrd. “She’s been very successful with shared parenting, even when it wasn’t called shared parenting.”
McMillan, who admits to assiduously checking on her charges at night to ensure that they are safe and accounted for, approaches each child as an individual, with respect for their usually difficult backgrounds.
“I just love them and nurture them, ask them what they like and don’t like, what they’ve experienced prior, and go from there,” she said.
Scotland County typically has a few dozen children in foster placements at any given time.
Nichola Cousar, who entered foster care with her younger sister at the age of 13, credited her successes to her foster mother Ruby Patterson.
“She’s always been there when I needed her; even when I didn’t want her to be, she was always there.”
Now 19, Cousar is a high school graduate living independently. She works as a manager at a fast food restaurant while pursuing nursing credits at Sandhills Community College — dogged by Patterson’s mantra: “You know better, so do better.”
When Cousar entered foster care, she chafed at the boundaries and expectations established by her foster mother. In hindsight, she sees that she has grown as a result and has learned to view life with a positive attitude.
“Foster care is not hard; it’s whatever you make it to be,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily that they’re on your back just to be nagging, just to be getting on your nerves. They’re actually trying to help you. That’s what Ms. Ruby was trying to do the whole time I was there with her — because I was a little bit … on the wayside.”
According to social worker Deborah Webb, foster parents are vital in providing a safe place for children and in helping their parents become fit guardians when possible.
“It definitely has to be something you want to do, because we have different types of children come into care,” said Webb. “They’re abused, neglected, so you have to be special skills-wise to be able to deal with whatever situation comes in and be able to love and embrace them and not replace their parents, but love them while their parents aren’t there.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.