A Former Foster Care Youth And Advocate On Learning To Be The Mother She Didn’t Have

Stephen Chiger courtesy of Charell Star

In 2022, Charell Star received a phone call that would change her life. The child she always wanted and was preparing to adopt, a baby boy, would soon be born. By Valentine’s Day of 2023, she, her husband, and that child, “Mr. Baby,” as he was affectionately called, became a family of three.

“I’ve always wanted to be a mom,” says Star. Despite not growing up with her mother or father, she wanted this role. Star is a former foster care youth and is now a foster care advocate. Knowing that she missed out on the example of parenthood she needed, she sought assistance to be the best mother possible.

She dove in when she and her husband first decided to adopt, absorbing everything she could. “I did a lot of work leaning into adoption communities,” she says. She spent months “actually doing the research, joining Facebook groups, trying to learn as much as I can not just from the perspective of adoptive moms, but also from youth who had been adopted.”

Knowing the struggles that can befall a family in crisis as a former youth in the system, Star wanted as much preparation as possible. She was all in. “Being in care didn’t dissuade me from wanting to be a mom. It made me want to be a good mom,” she says. And part of being a being a good mom, for her, was to face the past and the difficult moments from her childhood that showed up as she began to raise her son.

An incarcerated father and a mom struggling with addiction led to her being placed in the system. “My time in care was very, very difficult,” she recalls. “I was mentally abused, physically abused, sexually abused in foster care, and so I come to motherhood with this perspective of, I want to do right by my child.”

She adds, “I’m in therapy, and I would talk with my therapist about any triggers.”

A 2023 study published by The Cureus Journal of Medical Science found that “Maternal mental health is not just an individual concern but has far-reaching implications for the child’s emotional, cognitive, and social development” and “research has established the interplay between a mother’s mental well-being and her ability to provide responsive caregiving.”

Star mastered responsive caregiving by working on issues that initially held her back. For example, her son’s cries brought about significant anxiety. “I remember when I would be crying, and no one would comfort me when I was in care,” she reveals. “That’s a trigger for me.” Anxiety is commonly faced by those who have spent time in foster care, according to a 2021 study published by Frontiers in Psychology.

Star knew her efforts were paying off during a moment when her son was throwing a tantrum. She tapped into the tools obtained by her therapist to “coax” herself out of her head and care for her baby boy. “It’s not about you at this moment,” she told herself after a deep breath. “It’s about him.”

The current executive director of Muse by Clio, Star has the means to obtain mental healthcare to confront her triggers and be at her best. She’s aware that many new parents don’t, and it’s especially important for those embarking on parenthood after growing up in foster care.

As a board member at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) NYC and City Living NY, she is currently fighting for the rights of youth in care and transitioning out of care, including some new parents.

CASA has a Mental Health Care Access Program that provides services not only to the children served by the organization but to those in the family unit as well, including their parents. City Living NY aids former foster children in working through any “residual trauma” they might have. It also helps them work through “negotiating the new skills and needs of parenthood.”

Star continues her work today. She wants all mothers to have the chance to be the best they can be, the way she was able to, no matter their circumstances.

“I think overall, the idea of what a mom is, and who gets to be a mom, definitely needs to change,” she says. “I think we have to have a real readjustment to what it means to raise kids in this society and the sort of community that we’ve created if we want moms and women to feel like well-rounded individuals.”

As Star has worked through past trauma to be the mother her son needs, she’s also expanded her community of support, thanks to that work. This group now includes her birth mother, whom she has reconciled with.

“It’s not a traditional mother-daughter relationship,” Star says, noting it’s still one of great value to her as an adult, especially now that she’s a mother. “My relationship with my mom is great now. We have a very good relationship.”

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