Hometown Heroes: Linda Woodward has fostered babies in Boscawen for decades

  • Hometown Hero Linda Woodward at her Boscawen home where she has been fostering babies since 1981. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Hometown Hero Linda Woodward at her Boscawen home where she has been fostering babies since 1981. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/5/2022 8:02:23 PM

For more than four decades, Linda Woodward has cared for New Hampshire babies who need a safe place to stay.

While most septuagenarian grandparents might breathe a sigh of relief that they no longer have to stay up all night with a newborn infant, 71-year-old Woodward has continued to open her Boscawen home to the tiniest foster children.

She fostered her first child in 1979 and became licensed as a foster parent with her late husband in 1980. Since then, Woodward has cared for more than 160 kids, with a gap of 16 years when she worked as a teacher. That doesn’t include her own children and grandchildren.

As she spoke on the phone in May, she was caring for three children under three years old who could be heard burbling in the background. Woodward’s willingness to take on newborns is especially important because most day cares do not accept children under three months old.

Since Woodward is retired, she can stay home all day with infants and get up in the middle of the night to tend to them.

“Old people don’t sleep through the night. I don’t sleep well, so it’s not any big deal for me to give a bottle, give a little cuddle and go back to bed,” Woodward said.

The longest period of time that she fostered a child was six and a half years. The shortest was just an hour and a half. Her favorite part of fostering is providing the love and support that allows a frightened child to “blossom.”

“I’ve been able to actually see it happen,” she said.

Because the children that Woodward fosters have experienced abuse or neglect, some kids arrive with hyper-specific fears and traumas that she has learned to accept. One boy would have a meltdown whenever Woodward parked her car under a tree and was terrified by large houseplants.

When kids share stories of abuse with her, she documents what they tell her and reports the information. She tries to make children feel safe by getting them foods they like, or for older kids, having them cook with her.

Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to kids she has loved, whether they return to their birth families or leave for adoptive homes. “I’ve had several children that I became really, really close to, where it really was painful to see them move on. I was happy but it hurt,” Woodward said. Rarely, a birth parent will reach out to her for a visit, saying a child misses Woodward.

Over the decades she has spent fostering, Woodward has observed some changes in the practice. One is the rise of Facebook foster parent groups, which allow geographically dispersed foster parents to share advice, kid’s clothes and more recently, baby formula.

Woodward called the formula shortage “scary.” She transitioned one baby onto solid food earlier than she might have otherwise to avoid being left without formula.

Another long-term shift has been an ever-swinging pendulum of policy changes that Woodward said alternates between prioritizing moving children swiftly into more permanent homes and providing birth parents more time and resources to be able to care for their kids themselves.

“Once in a while I’ll get one where I don’t agree with the court’s decision about where the child is going and that is very frustrating and worrisome,” Woodward said.

Kids go into foster care when the state Division of Children, Youth, and Families find that their safety is at risk where they are and there is no other relative to care for them.

The more families there are to foster children, the more likely it is that children can stay in their home community, limiting the life disruption that comes from a long trip to school or having to switch schools altogether.

There are 1,100 New Hampshire children in “out of home care” – foster care, residential care and living with relatives. There are 650 licensed foster homes in the state.

“People should know that you don’t need to own your house, you don’t need to be married, you don’t need to be rich, you don’t need to be a stay-at-home parent,” Woodward said. “There are lots of options.”

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Jake Leon wrote in an email to the Monitor that foster families are always needed to make sure kids can stay near their friends, schools and communities. Foster families who can take on big sibling groups, children with disabilities or older youth are in particularly high demand.

“While we have thankfully not seen an increase in the number of children requiring foster care during the pandemic, it made recruitment and retention much more difficult,” Leon wrote in an email to the Monitor.” As any parent can attest, parenting became more difficult. That has resulted in an even greater need for foster parents today than before the pandemic.”

In general, Woodward said prospective foster parents need to be able to be flexible and go with the flow. Although she has three children in her care now, she could end the day with just two – or with four.

“My best advice to new foster parents is to try all the ages until you find one that fits you,” Woodward said. “For me, it’s the little guys.”

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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