Dying mother finds home for little girl ill with AIDS FREDERICK COUNTY

March 24, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

A Frederick County woman who is dying of AIDS and went public with her search for a family to care for her infected daughter believes she has found the right people.

Catherine Williams, a single mother, plans to accept a Carroll County family's offer of a home and foster care for her only child, 4-year-old Elizabeth. Settling the matter depends on working out the legal issues.

"I want to have everything in writing so there is no question who will be responsible for my child," Ms. Williams said. To protect the child's privacy, the prospective foster family wants to remain anonymous and Ms. Williams uses only her daughter's middle name.

For months now, Ms. Williams has been spending her waning strength and limited resources in finding a home for Elizabeth.

Members of her family could not take in the child, partly because they are in poor health. Ms. Williams, a former caseworker of the Maryland Department of Social Services, also found the state foster care system ill-equipped to handle her daughter's special needs.

Frustrated with the state system, Ms. Williams started her own search in hopes of finding a family and establishing a relationship with them before she dies. She contacted various AIDS-support organizations and churches and told her story to The Sun in an interview published March 9.

The story generated a flood of calls and letters offering everything from prayers to money for mother and child.

"The article broke my heart," said the woman whose offer of foster care Ms. Williams is considering. "Deep within my heart, I knew I had to help. We all just don't help one another enough."

The Sun received 33 phone calls. Wire services, radio and television stations also reported getting offers of help for Ms. Williams and her daughter. Many callers said they wanted to adopt Elizabeth.

For financial reasons, Ms. Williams said, foster care would be a better option than adoption for the family that takes in the child. Elizabeth now receives half of her mother's Social Security disability benefits. She will receive the full amount when Ms. Williams dies.

Should she be adopted, Elizabeth would lose her mother's benefits, and her medical bills could become an enormous burden on the family that cares for her.

The prospective foster parents have adopted two children through state agencies. They also have experience caring for children with AIDS. Their offer would give Ms. Williams time to develop a relationship with the family before she signs over her daughter.

"I will not hand my only child over to strangers," Ms. Williams, 37, has said from the time she began her search.

Ms. Williams knows "there won't be a cure for AIDS in time to save me."

Her daughter "is not as advanced in the disease" and is expected to outlive her mother.

Ms. Williams has met with the Carroll family several times and is negotiating with them.

She is to meet this week with an attorney experienced in child custody matters.

The family's roomy farmhouse has a small apartment, which would allow Ms. Williams and her daughter their own space.

"Our two families wouldn't get in each other's hair," she said. "My daughter probably will be in their space all the time, though. They have three kids, and she is already crazy about them."

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