- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Margie S. Word, founder and executive director of Chi Child Care Center.

Question: What is the status of boarder babies today?
Answer: I believe that now mothers are taking most of their babies home. I feel as if their drug problems are a little less severe. But, the unfortunate thing is that many times [the mothers] allow the children to be abused, abandoned or neglected after the children bond with them. Child and Family Services [also] is doing a more effective job in placing babies, so that relieves the hospitals from boarding the babies.
Q: Please tell me what defines a boarder baby.
A: A boarder baby is defined as a baby who was left in the hospital by its mother. During the late '80s and early '90s, women were abusing drugs and they would deliver the babies and walk out without leaving any forwarding address. Or, the social worker recognized it wasn't safe for the mother to take the child home. And, when a baby has no medical problem and stays in a hospital, then the baby becomes a boarder.
Hospitals in the District and many large cities also were experiencing problems with boarder babies. I believe Howard University Hospital, D.C. General Hospital and Greater Southeast Community Hospital had more boarder babies than any of the other local jurisdictions.
Q: How old do you accept children and how does the Chi Child Care Center care for the children?
A: Our children range in age from 0 to 5 years old. But the time that they stay with us is not fixed. The usual stay is four to six months, and at that time, the child is either what we call reunited with their biological family, adopted or placed in foster care. You see, Chi Child Care Center is a transitional home. While they're with us, each child receives the same benefits as they would if they were with their biological parents in the home.
We have a primary care method, where each child is assigned a surrogate mom and that person is the one to take the child to their doctor visits and meet all their motherly needs. That doesn't mean, however, that another staff member would not care for the child, but the child knows their special person.
You would be surprised at how little children pick that up. I think one of my greatest feelings of satisfaction took place when one of our primary moms was off. When she returned, her special child crawled to her. I was so pleased with what I saw, it was hard for me to hold back my tears.
As I said earlier, there's no fixed time for the children to leave the center. We have several children who were sent to us last summer, and they're all doing very well today.
Q: What makes Chi Child Care Center unique from other boarder-baby facilities?
A:We have no labels on our building. Our children attend preschool, and when they turn 5 years old, we send them to [grade] school. That's one of the reasons there aren't any signs on the building. It's just another house on the block. We did not want them to be labeled as those children from the boarder-baby house.
We basically have women as caretakers, but so the children will know there's another gender in the world, we have a male attendant who serves as a van driver with the understanding that he is supposed to interact with the children. You get the impression that the children think Daddy's home. Everybody has lots of questions for him. They want to go with him whether he's going out on a run or to the trash can. Of course, he's not there by accident; it's by design.
And, we have a registered nurse on staff and on call 24 hours a day. If a decision must be made about a medical problem, the person is available to advise the staff or take necessary actions.
Naturally, we take them out on field trips and the children feel like they're going to B. Smith's [restaurant] if we take them to McDonald's. We try and make a normal home environment for our children. Our capacity is eight and we stay pretty much full to capacity. Again, that number was by design we didn't want an institution, we wanted a home.
Q: Boarder babies and HIV/AIDS seem synonymous is that the case at Chi Child Care Center?
A: Our center is unlike others since we do not take only HIV/AIDS babies, but any child who has a need. For the most part, we have very few HIV or AIDS children . Many of the children who came to us HIV positive, but they became healthy while they were at the center. We don't refuse any child. We just haven't had a lot of HIV/AIDS cases. But when they do come to us, they are treated just like any other child.
Q: So, what's happening at the center? Are you planning any events in the near future?
A: Well, we've got our fourth annual Walk for Boarder Babies coming up on Saturday, May 18, at the Jefferson Memorial. It's a two-mile walk, and I certainly hope the community will come out and support us. The center has an advisory board that serves us in many ways. Since we are funded by Child and Family Services, we have enough to keep the children fed and dry.
The advisory board helps us to raise funds that aren't in the budget. We use the money in a variety of ways. For example, we may use some of the money for an outing with the children. Sometimes, money may be used to maintain the building for the benefit of the children. Someone recently looked at the kitchen table and said, "You could stand a new kitchen set."
And, many times, we have a child who needs medication immediately and we use those funds to make those purchases because our children don't go without needed essentials.
So, the walk begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday with registration at 8 a.m. People can walk in groups or alone if they like. We will also have prizes to give away and anyone who needs community-service hours are welcome. For $25, you can get two hours of community-service credit. If you donate $50, you get three hours of credit toward your community-service hours, and $100 will secure five hours of credit; $150 will earn a person seven hours of community-service credits.
If rain threatens, just bring along an umbrella and take the stroll. Or, people can make their donation and take the two-mile walk on another day. Pledges begin at $10 to $100 and above. If there are any questions about the walk, please call the center at 202/388-8660 for further information. [Parking is available; just follow the signs.]
Q: What does the Chi Child Care Center need at this time?
A: What we really need are toys, playground equipment and convertible cribs for the children.
Of course, we always need people to do some of the things that take place in a home. We can always use additional arms to rock the children. We were fortunate to have a computer donated, but we need someone who can train the children on how to use it properly. Volunteers can tell us what they would like to do anything that goes on in a home or office even someone to answer the phones when the staff is really busy.
Q: If you had it to do over again, Mrs. Word, would you have the same vision you had in 1989?
A: I really would. The sorority is very enthusiastic about this project, and I appreciate the trust they have placed in me and the satisfaction we all get as a sorority.
If you could only see the children in the condition in which they come to us. Sometimes, they're so undernourished, they're skeletal. But, three weeks later there's such a dramatic change; so much I often don't recognize the children.
And, if that doesn't make you happy, then there's something wrong with your heart.
It also extends to the people who care for the children. When we first opened, we trained our caretakers for the positions. Many of the people who came to work for us in the early '90s were unemployed. After years of working with us, they went on to accept positions with the police department, or they pursued careers as administrators, secretaries or guidance counselors and that gives us great satisfaction, too.
I can't say enough about the women who care for the children here every day. They're truly dedicated, and they take to the children as if they were their own.
I saw a father come to take his child home awhile back and, fortunately, it was a little boy and that did me a world of good. To see a father in our setting step to the plate isn't an everyday occurrence. That's why this project gives us such joy. My sorority is dedicated to this project. I'm dedicated to this project. We're all very proud.

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