When a child is taken into state custody for his or her own protection the goal is to return them to their family when their home is safe. In the meantime, foster parents can provide a nurturing and supportive home.
Laura Mitchell follows her calling to care for kids.
She is 37 and single and a full time mom.
"There's really not a whole lot of time for dating. This is not how I thought my life would look at all. I thought by this point in my life I would be married and have children either biologically or through adoption. So not at all what my plan was but definitely what I feel like God has called me to do. To open up to my home to children who need a home," she said.
Her home is the same house in South Knoxville where she grew up with five younger siblings.
"Being from a big family I also kind of dreamed of having a big family," she said.
She went on a mission trip to Africa six years ago.
"When I came back from Africa I just really thought I would start the international adoption process. Talked to a few agencies about that and in the course of that learned of kids here in our city that needed a home. That might be for a few nights, it might be a few months, or it might be forever," she said.
Classes and a background check opened the way for her to become a foster mother in August 2011. Since then she's fostered 53 children and adopted seven.
"My children have come so far and I am so proud of them for what they have overcome. Just being able to trust and being able to love and being able to build those healthy relationships and attachments to people is a really big deal," she said.
Foster care is not necessarily a road to adoption. In fact, it's an option only when it's not safe for a child to go back to the biological parents.
At least one of her former foster kids who has returned home comes back to visit!
In seven cases, a judge decided adoption was in the best interest of the kids, Laura's kids.
There are challenges. To raise seven children she needs a lot of patience and makes lots of lists: chores and daily goals and character building assignments.
Her church gives her emotional and spiritual support. An inheritance made it possible to leave her job after two decades at Dollywood to be a full time mom.
"Mom is a beautiful word to hear come out of their lips the first time."
The children who call her mom are 4 to 14 years old. They each have a story and set of circumstances that brought them to Laura Mitchell. The children are on a journey with a mother who loves them.
"What I see is that God is doing beautiful work and I kind of get a front row seat to watch them grow and heal and I watch them fall in love with Jesus too," she said. "Is it scary sometimes? Absolutely. But I Just feel like God calls you to he equips you for so while there are some hard days and there are some exhausting days there is always just strength that only comes from Him and gets me through each and every day."
Laura is sharing her story to spread the word about the need for foster families. The Department of Children's Services is the agency in Tennessee that handles foster care.