When 33-year-old social worker Danielle Pierson reflects on the women who raised her as a child, supported her through difficult times as a teen and encouraged her to work hard in high school and college as a young adult, many faces come to mind. To Pierson, Mother’s Day is a celebration of the many phenomenal women who never gave up on her, and blood ties are not required.
When Pierson was a child, her biological mother struggled with addiction. Pierson recalls instances of domestic violence between her mother and father that took place in their home. The Department of Child Services became involved in her family’s situation and tried to find a safe home for Pierson and her siblings.
“There was a lot of abuse that took place in our household between us, my mom and my dad. For years, we went back and forth from our home, to a foster home, to a relative’s home. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in elementary school. She raised us and took care of us while my mom was working through her addiction issues,” said Pierson.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are about 428,000 children in foster care throughout the United States. Many are separated from siblings, sent back and forth among many homes, or abused by those put there to protect them. Many teens who age out of the program experience homelessness, unemployment or incarceration as adults.
During Pierson’s freshman year of high school, she formed a bond with her English teacher, who later took her in as a foster child and created a stable home environment for Pierson to grow up in.
“I spent a lot of time at her house with her family, and so going into my junior year she and her husband decided to take me in. They have four kids of their own, so it was a lot to take on as a teen dealing with emotional issues and who wasn’t doing well in school. For me, trying to adapt to their lifestyle was the hardest thing to do,” said Pierson. “Not knowing what I wanted to do with my life or if I would see tomorrow, I had a lot of suicidal behaviors and depression growing up. I did end up having a conversation with my foster father, who encouraged going to college, but I didn’t really see how that would fit in with my 1.9 GPA.”
Pierson often felt like the odd one out in her new family. Her siblings were heavily involved in after-school activities and clubs and were all succeeding academically. Reconciling the way she grew up with the habits of her new family often felt like trying to meld together two conflicting identities.
“They said we go to school here (in this family), we get good grades here and we go to college. I was like, I’m not interested in that. That wasn’t OK with them. I really struggled emotionally. I wanted to do things my way, the way I did it in my previous placement, but now I had to live by these new rules,” said Pierson.
It was Pierson’s experiences as a foster child that led her to the field of social work. She studied hard, scored well on the ACT and enrolled in college. Though she went to three different schools during her time as an undergraduate, living on campus gave her a form of stability. When campus shut down for summer vacation, she found herself couch surfing at the homes of friends and relatives again. She persisted, and after graduating from IUPUI in 2008, she started working in the field of social work.
Today, she is the community outreach liaison with ChildAdvocates, a local organization that provides independent, child-focused representation to children who have faced abuse or neglect. Through ChildAdvocates, she developed a support group for current and former foster youth.
Out of adversity often comes the desire to create change. When Pierson realized that a child in her own extended family was in need of a safe place to live, she made the decision to bring him into her home — not as a foster child, but as her adopted son. She says deciding to become a mom to DeAndre was an extremely difficult decision, but she is starting to see the fruits of her labor as her relationship with her son, who is now 7, grows.
“We didn’t have a relationship before. He didn’t have a clue who I was when I took him in, but I had a relationship with his former foster parents, and I knew his day-to-day routine. I wanted to do anything to make the transition as normal for him as possible. Today, he holds the door for me, opens my car door for me and even asks if he can lead prayer instead of me.”
Pierson knows firsthand the impact a positive influence can have on a child’s life, and she wants her son’s life to be as stable as possible. She gives all credit to God for giving her the vision to take him in and the strength to follow through with the adoption.
“Not only was I making the decision to be a mother, I was making the decision to be a single mother. I was thinking about how this would affect my dating, friendships, finances, work and all aspects of life,” said Pierson. “In the end it wasn’t my choice; it was something that God told me to do. I knew if I follow God’s will for my life, he will work it out for good. It’s been a difficult journey, yet I’m starting to see brighter days and know it is all worthwhile. I am seeing the fruits of my labor and realizing that this is why I had to endure all of that in my own life.”
Pierson wants families to remember that Mother’s Day is all about relationships. She makes a point to stay connected with the many women who supported her throughout her life. She wants to encourage mothers and daughters to not take their relationships for granted and to find ways to build on those connections this Mother’s Day.
“I believe it’s important to celebrate women who act as mothers due to the fact that mothers are the womb of this earth. You don’t have to physically birth a child to be a mother. God can assign you to mother a child or even children who may be lacking or missing something only you can provide,” said Pierson.
“Although me and my mother are not as close as I would like, I think of how to add value. I’m like, let’s go to a women empowerment conference together and encourage each other to grow. What is really precious to a mother is her relationship with her children, so instead of going for those flowers that she will have to throw away, spend time together, and think of ways to add value to the relationship.”
Thinking about adoption or becoming a foster parent? Here are three foster care/adoption agencies in Indianapolis:
The Villages of Indiana