Throughout the years, Charlene has adopted around 35 children, most of whom have complex medical needs. “We do not do enough to get foster children with lots of medical needs into families,” she says in support of her desire to fight for her children.
Charlene believes that those born with complex medical needs still have a right to experience what life has to offer. As a mother, she has provided a home for even those whose lives come with a limited prospective lifespan. Her unwavering belief in the possibility of a good life for all resulted in her adoption of one of her sons, Jonathan. Born premature and weighing less than a hamburger, doctors recommended after a few months that it was best to end his life support. Charlene held him in her arms as they disengaged his life support after telling the doctors, “If he lives, he is mine.” Jonathan did live—he survived being taken off life support and made it past the 6 months that the doctors said he had left to live. Today, he is 26 years old.
It was Charlene’s determination to fight for what’s best for her children that brought her to TJC. She was having trouble obtaining TennCare for another son, Christopher. Charlene has been fighting for Chris’s health care needs for the past 25 years. She adopted him when he was 3 years old. Born to a mother suffering from an addiction, Chris was diagnosed with autism and thyroid issues as a child and diagnosed with diabetes and mental health issues as an adult. However, that did not stop Charlene, who believes that every child deserves a home and the support needed to live a full life.
Chris’s medications are essential to his capacity to healthily and safely navigate life, and losing his TennCare threatened his ability to take these medications. TJC was fortunate to guide Charlene along the way to getting Chris his TennCare back. Charlene said, “I needed a little moral support and that is what the Tennessee Justice Center was for me.” Just like we supported Charlene in meeting Chris’s needs, she supports many more in their quests to help others.
Charlene has this faith in positive outcomes for all her children. She fights for them to have opportunities that they would not get anywhere else. According to her, it is not spending money on your children, but spending time with your children that counts.A veteran, Charlene has traveled all over the world and met many people. It was during her time in the military that she began thinking deeply about people who were different from her. She was in the army during a time when women were treated poorly just for being women. During this time, she learned to treat people as people. Each and every day, she requires that the people she encounters do the same.
Charlene is a fighter, just like Chris, Jonathan, and all her other kids, and she will continue fighting until she sees justice for children like them. She believes that if parenting of children with complex medical needs is going to work, you must work together. Charlene has supported mothers in getting the school system to think about physical and mental health when handling children with challenging behaviors. In one case, Charlene helped a mother advocate against the expulsion of her child. After seeking other options for meeting the child’s needs, it was discovered that the child had autism and there were new opportunities to give this child a fulfilling life. Charlene says she fights alongside other mothers to give every person as much of a win as she can give them. “I have an opportunity to change minds and do things differently,” says Charlene about what motivates her to continue fighting.
Charlene’s husband, David, took on 18 step-children when they married in 2000. On his wife’s incredible dedication to her children, he states, “Charlie’s advocacy for her children is worthy of a miniseries—each child was special to her.” He feels that her fortitude makes her not just an exceptional mother to her children, but also an amazing advocate for children outside of their home.
We cannot wait to see more of the work Charlene does in her community. We know that she and her family will continue to be a beacon of hope, showing that all can live a full and loving life.