Home is where the heart is

Jackson's family hosts foster children and has recently adopted a toddler

With the ability to spread love, this family voluntarily takes in foster children in order to provide them a safe and friendly home, something these children were not offered before.

Freshman Ella Jackson and her family have been hosting many foster children that are in need of a home since 2014.

“It’s very hard not to get attached to the kids,” Jackson said. “They really become part of the family after I take care of them, feed them and play with them. I get really emotional when the kids leave because someone who became so important to me in a small time is leaving, but I’m happy they got to experience living with a family like mine and that they received unconditional love.”

Jackson’s mother, Kelley Renee Jackson-Cherry, receives calls from her Torrance Foster Care Agency when there are new children to be taken in.

“We mostly get drug cases where the child was put in foster care because of their mothers using drugs during pregnancy or were in an environment with drugs,” Jackson said. “We’ve also had one domestic violence case and another where one of the kids ran away.”

Currently, Jackson has two girls and one boy living with her family. The majority of the children her family has taken in are three years old and under, with the exception of a five year old toddler.

“We started fostering because we wanted to adopt, and we knew there were many kids in foster care who need homes,” Kelley Renee Jackson said. “Many of these kids need a chance at life, and we have the ability to give them that chance at life.” Kelley Renee Jackson has recently adopted one foster girl.

When Jackson’s mother is notified of children in the system, she usually takes in the kids right away if there is room within the household. Jackson’s family has taken in a total of nine children in the past few years.

“It’s sad knowing the kinds of broken homes little kids end up experiencing when they shouldn’t have to. Especially with the case where the kid ran away because it just shows how bad their life was, that they felt like needing to do that,” Kelley Renee said.

Their family is able to take in up to three children at a time due to the limited space in their house.

“The first time they come home, it’s weird and awkward. I don’t know them personally, and now they’re just living with me,” Jackson said. “When we get a call, my mother asks my family if we’re okay with taking in the kids first and checks if we have room in the house for them.”

The longest Jackson and her keep the foster kids is about five months.

“They get attached pretty quickly. Usually, when it’s a baby that comes into the family, I’ll watch them and hold them a lot,” Jackson said. “Sometimes, they’ll only fall asleep in my arms. When they start warming up to me, I end up getting more close to them than I thought I would.”

For Jackson, knowing that the children will eventually leave her house is “heartbreaking.” If social services are contacted by the extended family of the child, the foster kid will move in with them.

“It’s good at first because it’s fun to have a new kid around in the house. But it can get tense towards the middle when they start testing the waters to see how far they can act like kids without getting in trouble,” Jackson said.

Jackson describes having the kids playing around a bit troublesome, but she makes sure to love the kids at the end of the day.

“Once, I got angry at one of the kids for scaring me. But he was gone before I could change how I felt. It was really sad to not say goodbye the way I would have wanted to. I was so mad for a second that I didn’t get the chance to say sorry,” Jackson said. “Sometimes it’s hard, but if you know they’re going to a good family you’ll be happy for them. And if they go back to someone you don’t trust as much, you’ll be sad and a little worried.”

Jackson’s foster siblings have endured many “rough” times at such a young age, and wishes to do her best in order to keep the children happy.

“I’ve seen how the system affects older kids and I just hope that giving the little ones a good time with my family will make their lives more joyful because I know how harsh the system can be. They seem to think they aren’t worth much if no one wants to take them in, which isn’t true at all. They start to think negatively of themselves if they aren’t adopted and they lose their sense of self-worth. People that are compassionate will help these kids out, even if it’s just for a little while,” Jackson said.  

Though Jackson’s family, along with many others signed with local agencies, is willing to help foster children, many of the children are not adopted.

“I enjoy helping to change a child’s life by giving the love and attention they need when their parents are unable to,” Kelley Renee said.

Jackson is “grateful” to have the opportunity to help out children in the foster care system.

“It’s hard watching them leave because I know they have a hard life and staying with us made it a little easier for them. They’re just kids. They should have a stable family at all times,” Jackson said. “They just bring so much positivity. When they leave, it feels like I just lost someone in the family. It really is sad because of how attached they get, especially the young ones.”

The majority of foster children do not get adopted. They are thrown around in the system, and Jackson’s family is one of the few that takes in many children at once.

Jackson’s mother feels “blessed” to have an opportunity to foster children in need and will continue doing it in the future.

“Fostering has many challenges. We have met families with mental health problems, drug problems, domestic violence and neglect,” Kelley Renee said. “At first, you think about how parents could do this. But many of the parents come from parents who had the same problems. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle. Through fostering the hope is to break the cycle for these children.”

Jackson’s mother voluntarily takes in these children because of her own compassion and kindness.

“Fostering isn’t for everyone. You love these kids like they are your own and your heart breaks when it’s time for them to either go with extended family or back to their parents. But I am always happy to see how much the kids have grown and changed when they leave our home,” Kelley said.