On Saturdays, Natalie Price-Starks vigorously preps meals.
The kitchen is abuzz with sounds of chopping, sautéing and mixing as the Middletown mom crafts dinners for the week. Some dishes she drives into Philadelphia to give to her mother. The rest are for her blended family, which includes her husband, their 9-year-old adopted daughter and four foster children.
“We just all get in the kitchen and everybody has a piece of the puzzle,” she says.
Right now, the favorite meal in the household is tacos.
Price-Starks has always been nurturing, but after giving birth to one biological child (now an adult) and realizing she couldn’t have more of her own, the Philadelphia native looked into foster parenting. Nineteen years later, she’s cared for more than 20 children, from infants to teenagers. Price-Starks works exclusively with Pressley Ridge, a social-impact organization that helps children and families through an array of supportive services, including foster care.
Pressley Ridge offers a treatment program that focuses on reducing a child’s trauma by ensuring they are safe and cared for by trained foster parents; when appropriate, it assists foster parents and families on their journey to adoption. Each year, more than 1,500 youths find loving homes with highly skilled foster parents, according to the organization.
Price-Starks began working with Pressley Ridge when she relocated to Delaware nine years ago. She welcomed sisters Dakota, 13, and Rylee, 15, into her home just over a year ago, and their newborn brother, Zander, the following summer.
“I felt comfortable … that their standards for the care of the children—which is always my main concern—was their main concern,” Price-Starks says of Pressley Ridge’s foster care program.
The organization welcomes anyone to become a foster parent in the six states where it currently operates, but individuals and couples must meet both their state’s requirements and those from Pressley Ridge, such as having a clean record, reliable income and transportation, and an adequate bedroom for a child.
Pressley Ridge provides extensive assistance to its foster parents, such as parenting courses, care breaks, tax-free compensation and 24/7 phone availability, which Price-Starks says helps her feel supported.
Even before becoming a foster parent, Price-Starks had a special place in her heart for children.
She worked in pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. After raising her first daughter and becoming an empty nester, she missed having someone to care for.
She began the process of becoming a foster parent in Philadelphia, working with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia and taking in two of her grandchildren, who had become part of the system. Then she met her husband.
The couple agreed to continue their journey as foster parents together. “He had the same mindset,” Price-Starks says. “We’re very family-oriented.”
They then adopted their daughter LaShay and relocated to Delaware. Once settled, the family opened their home to many more children in the foster care system and prioritized making everyone feel like part of the family. Their success is evidenced by the number of children who have returned to visit after moving out.
“Every case is different, every situation is different and sometimes these children come from a home or a background where they just don’t know the right way and are looking for guidance and looking for structure.” —Natalie Price-Starks
While children are staying with the Price-Starks, communication with their biological parents is allowed with proper supervision.
“I build a bond with the families,” Price-Starks says. “Parents care, and they want to know the person that’s taking care of their children while they’re going through whatever it is that they’re going through [also] really cares.” Fostering, she says, is all about making sure children have stability and feel loved.
Her family bonds over games and movie nights; walks around the neighborhood and to the playground (when they’re not closed due to a pandemic); and reading time and schoolwork.
“I don’t look at them as foster children,” she adds. “I don’t refer to them as foster children when I’m out and about. These are my children. They walk in my door, they become my children.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Price-Starks has done her best to provide activities that her kids once enjoyed outside the home. Sisters Dakota and Rylee love gymnastics, so she purchased equipment for them to practice at home.
They’ve also been able to keep in touch with their biological mother and see their two older brothers, who live with another foster family. Seeing their baby brother come home to live with them was the best surprise of the summer.
For Price-Starks, another important aspect of being a foster parent is educating the public.
The biggest misconception about foster children, she says, is that they misbehave and aren’t trustworthy. In reality, all they need is “a bit of guidance and a little extra love.”
“Every case is different, every situation is different and sometimes these children come from a home or a background where they just don’t know the right way and are looking for guidance and looking for structure,” she says.
And while there are stressful days, those are outweighed by the good days. She says she wouldn’t change a thing about being a foster parent.
“For me, it’s about the kids and seeing them smile and making them comfortable,” she says.
To learn more about Pressley Ridge, visit pressleyridge.org.