The Woman With 200 Kids
August 23, 2019 8:15 PM Subscribe
Over the past 30 years, Cindy Stirling has fostered runaways, orphans, teen sex workers, abuse victims and cancer patients. Portrait of a supermom. (Luc Rinaldi, Toronto Life)
Roughly 50 per cent of foster parents quit within the first three years; another quarter stop within five. The Stirlings didn’t. In 1999, they bought a four-bedroom house in Mississauga, a place they could raise kids as one big family. Over the next 20 years, they filled it with children, as many as nine at a time. Three of them were theirs, biologically speaking: Molly, Drew and Jaslan. The others were fosters: toddlers who’d been abandoned by their parents, preschoolers with intellectual disabilities, boys covered in bruises, gay and trans kids disowned by their families, high-schoolers who ran with street gangs, the rootless sons and daughters of addicts and inmates. If there was no one else to care about a kid, Cindy and Ross Stirling would.
They raised these kids, watched them graduate from high school, move out, find jobs, get married and have children of their own. Ross started doing sales and marketing for Fortune 500 companies, while Stirling worked part-time at Community Living and ran the household. She became, in fostering lingo, the “designated parent,” meaning she was the one dealing with child services, filing paperwork, talking to biological families, taking kids to court. It was a mind-boggling undertaking, a project of immense emotional and organizational labour, but Stirling has an inexhaustible drive that makes it harder for her to stop than to keep going.