It’s the holiday season. The special time of the year where families gather with joy and cheer. But for 442,995 children across the U.S., the special, joyful time with families brought on by the holiday season won’t be with their biological families; it will be with their foster parents.
“Foster care is a temporary living situation for children whose parents cannot take care of them and whose need for care has come to the attention of child welfare agency staff,” according to the Annie E Casey Foundation, a national leader in foster care best practice. “Over half of children who enter foster care return to their families.”
Since 1972, Children’s Services of Roxbury (CSR) has been providing intensive foster care for vulnerable children across Massachusetts, seeking permanent, stable, safe homes for every child, while strengthening birth families with support and stabilization services. CSR works to minimize the trauma and disruption of a foster care placement by finding a foster family in the child’s home community.
Intensive Foster Care is a specialized foster home that offers extra structure, support, guidance, and assistance. For families that care for youth in Intensive Foster Care, a wide variety of extra resources and support are available.
But what inspires a person to decide to become a foster parent? Is the compassion for children enduring abuse and neglect all that it takes? How does someone know if he or she is capable or competent? Is it simply taking the leap of faith, trying something new, and deciding to become a foster parent?
Ten years ago, Victoria Johnson of Roxbury, Mass. opened her heart and home and became a foster parent with CSR.
“I’m from West Africa, Nigeria, and ever since I was a littler girl, as I was growing up, my parents have always taken in family’s kids; my house was always packed with kids,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Mrs. Johnson said that she always knew in her heart and soul that she wanted to be a foster parent. In the 90s, while she worked at Mass Eye & Ear, she decided to go for the certification to become a foster parent. After completing the process, she did not immediately move forward with becoming a foster parent. “It wasn’t the time,” she said.
A few years later, Mrs. Johnson got married and was explicit in letting her husband know that she wanted to be a foster parent. “I told my husband upfront that I always wanted to be a foster mom; that’s my dream. Even if we had a child, I still wanted to be a foster mom or adopt,” she said.
After working at Mass Eye & Ear for 20 years, Mrs. Johnson got laid off. She embraced the layoff and viewed it as a “blessing in disguise.” She viewed it as her opportunity to dedicate her time and focus to implement her dreams of becoming a foster parent. “My husband and I went and did the certificate together and became foster parents,” she said.
Interviewer: Once you and your husband got your certification, were you at all nervous to move forward with the process to open your home to children you didn’t know?
Mrs. Johnson: There are too many kids out there that need care and there’s not enough people to give them love, and I wanted to do that. The kind of husband I have, he’s very loving and supportive. So together, regardless of whatever fear or nervousness, we knew it was something we had to do.
Interviewer: What would you say to those who are considering becoming a foster parent, but might have reservations?
Mrs. Johnson: This is not for everybody. This is a calling. I know God called me to do this because foster care is not easy. You have to love to do it. There’s no money in it. If you think you’re getting in it for the money, then it’s not for you. I have love for the children. It’s a passion. I love it, that’s why I do it. You can’t just do it, you must love it.
If you’re considering it for the right reasons, then open your hearts to these kids. They just need the love. Some of them don’t have the love; they just need the love, that’s all. Once we give some of them the love they need, some of them change. You’ll be surprised.
Interviewer: What do you say to the stigma that categories foster children as being “bad” or “challenging”?
Mrs. Johnson: I have cousins and family members that go through the same things a foster parent might go through. It’s not because they’re foster parents or the children are foster children, it’s just kids and it’s just parenting. It’s just the generation.
The Johnsons have been foster-parents for 10 years. They do not have biological children but have fostered over 10 children throughout the years. “The youngest child we’ve had was six-days-old, and the oldest was eight-years-old,” she said. “I love the kids, every child that comes to my home brings me joy. It doesn’t matter how many days the child stays, I remember all my kids over the years.”
One of the foster children Mrs. Johnson welcomed to her home was 2 and ½ year-old Katelyn who is now seven-years-old. On September 20, 2019, Mrs. Johnson and her husband adopted Katelyn.
“There’re so many kids out there that need a loving home, they need a place to go to rest their heads, a place they can call home, a place they can say I have a home to go to tonight, I have a family to go to tonight, I have a key to open a door tonight. I have a room to go to and call my own tonight, so people need to just open their hearts and give these kids a chance and see,” she said.
Mrs. Johnson said that having “angels” come to her home over the years has brought joy to her heart. “I am going to do it for a very long time,” she said.
Jewel Singletary of Roxbury, Mass., is also a current foster parent with CSR:
For many, the New Year is a time to set resolutions, accomplish greater things, and take risks that will propel life to new heights. Perhaps, it’s becoming a foster parent.
In Massachusetts, there are 10,919 children in foster care. CSR continues to place children in homes that foster their development, their hope and their future.
CSR currently has a total of 89 active foster homes located in Tewksbury (35), Northampton (30) and Boston (24). There is a need for more active homes in the Boston-area.