'Redefine What It Means to Be a Family'

Professor and Alum Wife Honored as D.C.鈥檚 Foster Parent of the Year
black children looking out to the ocean

In just three months, Taylor Woodman M.A. 鈥12, Ph.D. 鈥19 and his wife, Madeleine 鈥10, M.Ed. 鈥11, went from raising one child to wrangling four under the age of 6.

The D.C. foster parents had just adopted their oldest daughter, Harmony, in the spring of 2022 and were on the verge of adopting their second, Coco. A newborn also in their care had recently been reunited with his family when they got a call: Could they take a pair of siblings?

They didn鈥檛 hesitate. The Woodmans welcomed 1-year-old 鈥淢鈥 and 4-year-old 鈥淩,鈥 allowing the brothers to remain together in D.C., an unfortunate rarity. What was supposed to be a two-week stay has turned into two years, and they still live with the Woodmans today.

 

The couple鈥檚 dedication led to their recognition this weekend as D.C.鈥檚 Foster Parent of the Year for 2024.

mixed family
Taylor (top) and Madeleine (middle) hold their four children, adopted daughters Harmony and Coco and foster brothers "M" and "R," in a recent family photo.

鈥淚t鈥檚 overwhelming,鈥 said Madeleine. 鈥淲e鈥檙e very humbled. We鈥檙e very young in this journey.鈥

澳门开奖网 500 children for various reasons, including abuse and neglect. Because the city has only 140 or so 鈥渞esource families,鈥 about half of them end up in 澳门开奖网, so the need for more people like the Woodmans is dire. Since fall 2020, the couple has fostered six children and provided shorter-term respite care for a handful of others.

鈥淭he Woodmans鈥 acceptance, understanding and implementation of shared parenting are exceptional,鈥 said Regina Lawson, supervisor of recruitment for the , noting their success in reuniting children with their biological families. 鈥淭hey believe that working with the children's former foster parents, birth family, extended families, and their own extended family will result in the best outcomes for their children.鈥
 

The couple鈥檚 interest in fostering converged from different life experiences. Growing up in a low-income household in the Appalachia region of Virginia, Taylor and his siblings had brushes with family support services. And when Madeleine became a special education teacher in D.C. Public Schools, she saw firsthand the struggles some of her students faced.

They applied in early 2020, shortly after Taylor earned his doctorate from UMD鈥檚 College of Education, where he is an assistant clinical professor. The certification process includes training classes, background checks and home inspections. After they received their license that September, they got their first call only a month later about a 16-month-old who needed a home. He showed up after a few days in the hospital, wearing footie pajamas. But he wasn鈥檛 scared at all鈥攈e ran right into their home and started exploring, putting the Woodmans at ease.

鈥淚t makes me kind of weepy, talking about him,鈥 said Madeleine. 鈥淗e was so playful and sweet and loving, and he and his parents and his kin who adopted him taught us a ton.鈥

The goal of fostering is to reunite children with their families, so visits started with the child鈥檚 father just a week after the toddler arrived, keeping the connection while helping the Woodmans learn things like his favorite bathtime songs. Over the next six months, they added visits with his mother and his great-aunt and -uncle, who ended up adopting him.

While the Woodmans didn鈥檛 become foster parents intending to adopt, they were always open to the idea. When it became clear that there were no family members able to permanently care for Harmony, then Coco, the agency approached the couple, who said it was 鈥渁n obvious yes. We were honored to become their forever family.鈥

 

Loving the children is easy, but the rest isn鈥檛. The kids come with little information鈥攐n occasion just a first name, or an incorrect age. Sometimes they get only a few hours鈥 notice (having understanding supervisors, including at UMD, is instrumental) and must rely on their network of fellow foster parents to supply clothes in specific sizes or bottles for a newborn. And because the children have experienced trauma, they sometimes act out impulsively or have trouble communicating.

In addition, 鈥渁 lot of decisions are out of our control,鈥 said Taylor, such as about education, medical care or even haircuts.

Since most foster children in D.C. are African American, it鈥檚 important to the Woodmans, who are white, not to violate cultural norms. Madeleine credits her classes at UMD for opening her eyes to white privilege and identifying her own biases. Today, she and Taylor make sure they listen to their kids to ensure they have diverse music, books and toys. They also look for Black mentors in the community who can help guide their children when they have questions the Woodmans can鈥檛 answer, such as about colorism, an issue their oldest daughter has already struggled with in school due to her darker skin.

鈥淲e haven鈥檛 walked in their shoes, so we are very open about that,鈥 Madeleine said. 鈥淎nd we take responsibility when we fall short.鈥

They hope to inspire others to follow in their footsteps and regularly share their experiences with prospective parents.

No matter how long they stay with the Woodmans, children become part of their family forever. The couple attends every birthday party they can, celebrates holidays like Thanksgiving with the kids鈥 relatives and have even vacationed in Florida together.

鈥淚t鈥檚 been really special,鈥 said Taylor. 鈥淲e鈥檝e learned to redefine what it means to be a family, being open and building relationships.鈥

 

This story first appeared in .