HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Caring for 100 children sounds like something out of a nursery rhyme, but for Hilton Head Islander Karin Van Name, it’s the reality of more than three decades as a foster parent.
“I said I’d stop after 100 or when I reached 100, whichever came first,” 91-year-old Van Name said in an interview with the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette at her home in Hilton Head Plantation. “However, if they (Department of Social Services) called with a newborn, I wouldn’t say no.”
Van Name celebrated her 100th foster child, a 5-month-old girl, this summer and says she has been the “best baby” yet.
“She’s very happy,” Van Name said of the little girl as she wiped a trail of drool from the teething infant’s chin. “She knows what she wants and when she’s had enough, too.”
The child came to Van Name in June and, ever since, the two have played dress-up, crawled around on the carpeted floor of Van Name’s bedroom, and watched cartoons. Sometimes, they like to go for walks in a vintage pram Van Name bought for a hundred dollars 63 years ago or splash around in the community pool. On slow days, Van Name sits and watches the baby take one of two daily naps in a bassinet she originally had made for one of her two granddaughters.
“She’s going to be an early walker,” Van Name said. “Babies usually crawl around seven months and she’s already trying. She does tricks; she just started planking.”
Van Name began fostering in 1988 after she left her career as an advertising director in Long Island, New York. She saw an advertisement in a penny-saver one day asking for foster parents and thought she might as well since she “wasn’t doing anything.” After 14 years as a foster parent in New York, she continued fostering when she moved to South Carolina in 2002.
“I didn’t want to start a daycare, I wanted to be with them 24/7,” she said.
Saying goodbye has never been easy for Van Name, who said she has cried every time she has had to part with a child. She has filled album after album with precious photos of her little ones that she pores over, remembering small details about each one and their personality.
Van Name has a nursery set up in her Hilton Head Plantation home that is always at the ready with clothes and toys to welcome incoming children Sofia Sanchez Van Name never knows how much time she will have with the children, but has managed to create long-lasting relationships with some of the ones she has cared for. One family in Estill, Georgia, adopted three of the children Van Name had cared for. When Hurricane Matthew approached the Carolinas in 2016, that family invited her, her two foster children at the time, and her daughters to come and stay with them.
Some children have stayed nearby — one lives in Bluffton — and others have gone as far as Wyoming. She always leaves a note with her name and her address on it in case any of the children want to keep in touch when they are older.
“I like it when I hear from my babies,” she said.
Her longest foster, the 17th baby, was eventually adopted by one of her own daughters, April. He had been with her family from when he was 2 days old and they cared for him until he was 4. By then, she said, he was family and they “couldn’t let him go.” Next month, Brett will be 30.
Her favorite age to care for is newborns, but she will make exceptions when there’s a need. She has taken in a 7-year-old boy for several days in an emergency, and once had a 3-year-old girl who came to her one night at 11 p.m. In those situations, Van Name has done her best to make the children feel safe and comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings.
Once, she was caring for four girls at a time, all under 2 years old. In her kitchen, pinned to a corkboard alongside other family photos and daily reminders, she keeps a photo of the four of them lined up side-by-side on a couch. She often swipes through a digital picture frame on her kitchen counter that her granddaughters rigged to display photos of her family and the babies she has looked after over the years.
Now that the impressive milestone has been reached, Van Name doesn’t know whether she’ll retire from fostering.
“I don’t know what keeps me going, maybe the thought of getting another baby,” she said.