takes in Children Who Need Care the Most
In the movies, doctors are often given a bad rap for losing themselves in their jobs and ignoring their families. Obviously, Hollywood has not met Dr. Mike Clemmens, Chief of Pediatrics at Anne Arundel Medical Center. Not only does he devote himself to caring for the hundreds of children who come to the hospital each year, but he also makes time for his own children, the biological ones and the ones he fosters.
Dr. Clemmens can often be seen running around AAMC's Pediatric Unit with a smile on his face, leaving a trail of children - and their parents - laughing, even when they are in pain. Once a year, he even welcomes hundreds of healthy children to AAMC for the hospital's annual "Hands on Health Day" where they learn that medicine does not have to be scary. He does it because he is chief of pediatrics but he also does it because, quite frankly, no one can do it better.
At the end of the day, one would think Dr. Clemmens had heard enough of the pitter patter of little feet. Yet, three years ago, he and his wife, Carol, discovered that they had not. Despite their busy lives, they wanted to become foster parents. Thankfully, the two young children they already had, Rosie, 11, and Jimmy, 10, were just as eager to share their Annapolis home.
"My wife and I still wanted to have kids around the house, but we were done having kids ourselves," Dr. Clemmens said. "Our children got way more into it than I would have thought. They ask when the county is going to call about taking in another child. They love the chaos."
In order to become foster parents, the Clemmens had to go through a screening process with the county Department of Social Services during which they had to give references, be interviewed, have their home inspected and their neighbors interviewed. Once they were accepted, they had to attend a three-hour training class once a week for nine weeks.
The effort was more than worth it, Dr. Clemmens said. Since then, the Clemmens have fostered 13 children, from 3 days old to 7 years old. Most have been toddlers but a few were older children who took some extra care.
"There have been some difficult times with the older children, but you just try to do the best you can and love them the best you can," Dr. Clemmens said. "You feel for them. They've been put through the wringer. Mostly, what they need is a warm environment. They need to learn to trust again."
Mrs. Clemmens agreed. "Today, I was rushing off with four kids in the car on my way to drop off two and the other two were crying and I thought to myself, 'Oh my gosh. What am I doing?'" said Mrs. Clemmens, who works part-time with the county Department of Aging. "But I love having these children. I love seeing them learn to bond with us. That's so important, because if they don't learn to bond now, they will never be able to bond later in life."
The amount of time the foster children have stayed has ranged from three days to seven months. The longer they stay, the harder it is to say goodbye, Dr. Clemmens said, but that doesn't keep him from getting attached.
"You just let yourself get attached and when they leave, it hurts," he said. "But you know when the children leave they are going to a better place than where they were before. They are going to either a loving adoptive home or a more responsible relative. That makes it easier."
Still, there are some children the Clemmens have found impossible to say goodbye to forever. One little girl came to their home at four months old, straight out of the hospital due to severe abuse. The Clemmens kept her for six months until a potential adoptive family was found. The little girl now comes to their home once a week so that her biological mother may have a supervised visit.
Diane Shaffer, a supervisor in foster care for the county Department of Social Services, said it is a delight to bring the child to the Clemmens' home.
"You should see this child's face when I bring her to that house," she said. "She just lights up, runs right over to 'Momma Carol' and wraps her arms around her tight."
The Clemmens said they would do whatever they can to make sure this little girl is safe and happy. "We're very attached," Dr. Clemmens said. "Thankfully, the family she is living with now is very loving and is trying to adopt her. We have become friends with this family and are sort of like grandparents to the little girl."
The Clemmens have even considered adopting a child themselves one day, if the right situation arises."When we were approved to be foster parents, we were also approved to adopt," Dr. Clemmens said. "We might some day. We're not looking, but we're certainly open to it."
"Mike really becomes an advocate for these children," Mrs. Clemmens said. "He is very vocal about their welfare. He writes letters to the judges. He testifies in court about what should happen to them. I do more of the hands-on, day-to-day work, but Mike works on the big picture. He's fought for every single one of the children we've taken into our home."
Ms. Shaffer said the Clemmens' exceptional care of one foster child even prompted the young boy's birth parents to write the Clemmens a thank-you note."That is very unusual," Mrs. Shaffer said. "The Clemmens are not only able to heal these children physically but they are able to give these children the emotionally nurturing they need to live a normal life."
Dr. Clemmens insists his family is just ordinary folks and that there are many families out there who can provide the same level of care."We're not super parents," he said. "We're very ordinary parents. Anyone who wants to help out and has some extra time to give can do it."
Ms. Shaffer said that while the Clemmens are indeed special, she agrees that there are other people with just as much love to give.
"One of the Clemmens' friends decided to become a foster parent after learning about it from Mike and Carol," she said. "The woman said that after being a parent and a grandparent, it was the best decision she ever made. I think that most people who are generous with their own children can be generous with other children as well. The Clemmens are a wonderful example of that."
For more information about becoming a foster parent, call the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services 410-222-7825. Anne Arundel Medical Center is a not-for-profit regional healthcare provider.