California Today: A Foster Family Who Can’t Say ‘No’

By Mike McPhate for The New York Times

Raelene MacDowell and her husband, Ted, are among California’s most prolific foster parents.

Since 1978, they’ve opened their home to more than 630 children, a figure that child welfare experts say is virtually unheard-of.

“She is a rather unique and amazing woman,” Dianna Wagner, the director of Shasta County’s children’s services agency, said of Ms. MacDowell. “As a foster parent, she really never turned away a kid.”

In California, more than 60,000 children are in foster care. Experts say there is a dire shortage of volunteers to care for them.

At the same time, parents occasionally come along who get hooked, said Jill Duerr Berrick, a professor of social welfare at University of California, Berkeley.

“They take in child after child after child,” she added. “And it’s just truly extraordinary.”

Ms. MacDowell, 72, was recently honored at a Shasta County board of supervisors meeting for her service to the county.

In an interview, she said she always loved children. After giving birth to three of their own, she pitched the idea of becoming foster parents to Ted, who was running a masonry business.

Fortunately, he was on board — over the years, he changed his share of diapers and taught a bunch of the children to fish.

Ms. MacDowell specialized in caring for medically fragile or drug-addicted babies — “the ones no one wants,” she said.

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