Uno night isn’t just a game for Gracie Brown and her family. It’s an all out war filled with food and laughter that the family looks forward to enjoying. A neighbor who knocked to see what all the ruckus was about was even invited in to join the fun.
“It’s serious,” Brown says. “We keep score and it’s hardcore. If somebody loses, they have to eat. That’s our bond, all three of us.”
Brown’s family is a little different than most. It includes her 13-year old foster daughter and her partner of one year. Brown’s three adult sons also stop by for Uno nights occasionally. It’s the kind of family she had been waiting eagerly to have.
Brown, a crossing guard for the District of Columbia Public Schools, decided to become a licensed foster parent through Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) in 2013. She had plans to foster a younger child, but after CFSA needed immediate placements for a teenager last November, Brown decided to fulfill the role.
The child became her first. Brown, who lives in Southeast Washington, believes that fostering a teenager works best for her. She enjoys it and thinks it’s easier to handle than a younger child who requires more attention.
“For one, I don’t have to worry about a babysitter,” Brown says. “We can do a lot of things together. I’m now allowing her to catch the bus home. They can understand me and I can understand them.”
Things weren’t easy right from the start. Brown had to spend some time coaxing her foster daughter out of her shell. Brown admits that the child was very quiet at first and Brown had to do some detective work to figure out how to get the child to open up and connect with her.
Brown found the answer through connecting with her foster daughter’s television shows.
“She would say maybe two words, ‘Yes ma’am.’ Nothing else. The third day I said how am I going to get through to her? So I started talking about what she liked on TV,” Brown says. “So I said I like that too. I didn’t, but I didn’t know what else to say. Then maybe after seven days she started talking, she was just so excited. And we build and build.”
Brown’s efforts to reach out to her foster daughter didn’t end there. Although the child is a model student, an eighth grader on the 11th grade level, there was still the shyness factor that Brown hoped to overcome.
She found her answer when she discovered her foster daughter wanted to be an actress when she got older. Brown decided it would be the perfect idea for them to take acting classes together.
Brown enrolled them in a class at the Shakespeare Theatre. The adults and children have classes separately and at the end they do a play together. They even practice role playing at home.
A typical day for the two begins with getting her foster daughter up for school and occasionally having her make breakfast for herself. When she drops her foster daughter off for school, they hug and tell each other they love one another. While her foster daughter is at school she sometimes texts to let Brown know how her day is going. Then afterwards, Brown picks her up and they tell each other about their days and make dinner together.
Brown’s other challenge was disclosing she was a lesbian to her foster daughter. She had introduced her partner to her foster daughter but would only refer to her as a “my friend.” Brown refused to keep it a secret from her for long and decided after about three days to bring it up.
She put on a children’s DVD that discussed the issue and waited for her foster daughter’s reaction.
“I was like, ‘What do you think about parenting and lesbians and gays?’ She said, ‘Oh they talk about it at school all the time.’ She said, ‘You are?’ ‘I said, ‘Yes I am, do you have a problem with that? Does that make you uncomfortable?,’” Brown says.
Brown’s foster daughter’s reply made her feel much more at ease.
“She said, ‘No, you’re beautiful and you make me feel so at home.’ She said, ‘Is Miss so-and-so who you …?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘Oh that’s really neat.’ She’s pretty comfortable.”
Her foster daughter even made a poster for school about “people are who they are for a reason” after learning about Brown’s sexuality. Brown’s partner, who has raised five children including girls, also helps Brown with her foster daughter. Brown acknowledges she needs the help sometimes because her experience of raising boys is different than raising a girl.
The three of them spend time together going to the movies, most recently going to see “Selma,” going out to eat and even making jewelry. Besides their infamous Uno night, they also have pizza nights where they make their own pizzas and Brown teaches her foster daughter how to make it on her own.
CFSA looks out for homes like this that can provide a stable and loving environment for foster kids in need. In fact, according to CFSA, LGBT families make up about 12 percent of foster care placements in the District.
“We find great parents in every walk of life,” says Regina Lawson, supervisory social worker in CFSA’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Recruitment Unit. “The number of LGBT foster homes in D.C. is growing and we greatly value these relationships.”
Brown’s experience has been so positive that she has plans to foster more children in the future. She also wants others to know how important LGBT foster care placement families are for the community.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover. We have a lot of love to give and share and commitment. If we’re given a chance we can show through the caring of our child that we just want a kid in our life and we can give them the happiest home ever if given the chance to.”