Cindy Stirling, third from right, was recipient of the Stand Up for Kids Award for her 27 years as a foster parent, the last six with Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. Photo courtesy of Alison McLennan

For 27 years, foster mother has made a difference

By 
  • November 11, 2015

TORONTO - Foster parent Cindy Stirling has been a difference maker.

Over the past 27 years Stirling estimates she’s taken care of more than 200 children, only three of whom were her own. She’s done this for all four of Toronto’s children’s aid societies, the past six years with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

“I really like feeling like I’ve made a difference in a young person’s life,” said Stirling. “To be honest it really makes me feel good about myself and what I am doing.

“I’m giving them a sense of belonging, a sense of family,” she said, noting most of those she’s fostered have been females. “Their biological families may not be the strongest but they become sisters and brothers to each other. It is really rewarding to know that they are going to have support and a family network.”

And for making a difference in the lives of so many, Stirling was recognized Oct. 30 with the Stand Up For Kids Award, presented annually by Toronto’s children’s aid societies.

“Cindy’s story is a testament to the power of love and compassion to help vulnerable children,” said Janice Robinson, executive director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. “Her fundamental approach is this — the abused and neglected children who are placed with her have a safe, secure and loving placement that they can call home. It sounds simple but it affords these children a chance to be loved, accepted and to know their own worth in a family.”

Also honoured was Cassandra Churm.

For Stirling the award belongs to every one of those who’ve been part of her family for almost three decades.

“I really see it as a family honour,” she said. “It really affirmed for me as a mom that we are doing things right as a family. I wish more people would look at (being a foster parent) and give it a go.

“It really is an incredible feeling being able to know that you’ve changed somebody’s life.”

There is little Stirling won’t do for her children, including giving up her part-time job with Community Living in Mississauga when one of her foster-daughters, Natasha, was diagnosed with cancer. Natasha lost her two-year battle in July.

“With all the demands, all the appointments and chemo treatments, and with all the kids at home and trying to keep their needs met, it was just too much,” she said. “As a mom you do what you have to do.”

With two of her biological children being high-level athletes, quitting her job meant some serious financial rearranging and adapting for the family.

“I didn’t want cancer to take away anything else away from them than what it already has,” she said.

In addition to facilitating relationships between foster children and her own offspring, Stirling strives to strengthen ties with the foster children’s biological family.

“I work on improving relationships between the children and their family as best as we can,” she said. “Sometimes we are able to reunify. So once they become adults they can still hopefully have a relationship with us but also with their biological family.”

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