She is now outgoing and happy, but Jessica Cunliffe says her life wasn’t always so good.

Her mother died when Cunliffe was 12 years old. But then she met Linda Cherry.

“She saved my life,” said Cunliffe, now 19. “If it wasn’t for her, I probably would be out on the street.”
With tears in her eyes, Cherry recalled meeting Cunliffe as a young teen.

“When she came to me six years ago, she was broken,” the Ottawa foster mother said.

The pair, along with Cherry’s four other foster daughters, attended the second annual Foster a Snow Angel event on Parliament Hill yesterday to raise awareness of the need for more caregiver families for children and youth in care.

“You have no idea what you get back,” said Cherry, a former child and youth worker. “I learn from these children every day.

“The love you get back is unconditional,” Cherry added. “To see these kids grow and flourish is something else. You get back a hundred-fold.”

Cherry said she wants to encourage others who have been thinking about fostering to do it.

There are a lot of people out there who “have big hearts,” but aren’t sure that they can be foster parents, she said.

“If you have the heart, the understanding, and a little bit of patience, you can do it,” she said.

Dozens of foster families and their children from all over eastern Ontario attended the event.

“This is about bringing awareness to the need for more foster families in eastern Ontario,” said Children’s Aid Societies of Eastern Ontario spokeswoman France Clost. “If we can get one family to come forward, it’s worth it.”

On any given day, there are 1,100 foster families for 3,200 children in care in eastern Ontario.

Currently in Ottawa, there are 200 foster families and 800 children in care, Clost said, adding that the number of foster parents in Ontario is shrinking as people retire.