For 17 years, Demetress Williams fostered children. Then she met four siblings she wanted to adopt.

How fostering children helped Williams create a family

Demetress Williams surrounded by four of her foster children
Demetress Williams and (clockwise from top left) Kevina, Malachi, Zoe, and Zion

Photograph by Peyton Fulford

Atlantans is a first-person account of the familiar strangers who make the city tick. This month’s is Demetress Williams, a foster mom, as told to Jewel Wicker.

I am the oldest of four kids. I have two younger siblings that people probably thought were my kids. You could say I’m family oriented.

Years ago, my cousin and his wife were foster parents and he was like, “You ought to do it.” And so, I did. This was around 2002. At the time, I was considered a therapeutic foster parent. You usually get kids that have a little bit of issues, behavior problems, so you get paid a little bit more than a regular Division of Family and Children Services foster parent gets paid. I’ve fostered maybe 10 kids.

When you’re dealing with foster kids, it’s not like your biological kids. You have to have the mindset that these kids probably have been through more than an average adult.

I started fostering a six-year-old named Malachi and his older brother. The older brother’s father was eventually awarded custody of him. In total, Malachi has five siblings [two full, three half]. Two of them are now with their father. Malachi was moved around to various foster homes about five times after I first fostered him, and, during the times he couldn’t live with his siblings, there was crying and holding onto each other. It was gut-wrenching to see.

“I always told Malachi that if anything happened where I could adopt him, I would.”

Most of the time, the main objective is reunification, so you don’t want to get too attached. But that wasn’t the case with these [four] siblings. They weren’t going to be reunited with their parent, and Malachi had grown attached to me. I always told him if anything happened where I could adopt him, I would. After something happened while he was living in a foster home in Atlanta—I don’t know what—the kids were moved again. One of my coordinators noticed DFCS was looking for a new place for them. She asked me what Malachi’s last name was and said, “I think that’s them.” DFCS called and asked me if I would adopt all the kids. At the time, I was still fostering three girls. I said, “Yeah, but you have to give me time to find a bigger place.”

Demetress Williams standing outside her home with four of her foster children

Photograph by Peyton Fulford

The adoption took place in April. It wasn’t a thought of “should I or should I not?” That was a no-brainer. I had already moved out of my home­—a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, townhouse. I rented a four-bedroom house, and we stayed there for a year before I ended up buying the house that we’re in now. I still get foster kids for short periods of time, or respite, occasionally.

Why I do it is in me somewhere. I don’t know. Maybe somebody in my family before I was born did it. It’s not about the money, although some foster parents make it that. If someone takes on kids, especially a larger sibling group, daycare, assistance is needed. But now that I’ve adopted them, I don’t have to worry about them going nowhere.

This article appears in our December 2019 issue.