After college, Antoinette Johnson was looking for a job, but she didn’t really have a direction. A friend told her that Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families was hiring. She applied after a little research. Twenty-five years later she has made a career in child protection. She laughs, “I guess I’m hooked!”
Her job has brought her into contact with hundreds of children and families over the years, all in need of support and safety. Antoinette has seen over and over the importance of having good foster families available when a child must be removed from their home. So, four years ago when her kids were grown, Antoinette decided to join the ranks of dedicated foster parents in Aspire Living & Learning’s Permanency Program.
Were there surprises? “Of course. It’s one thing being a social worker. It’s another thing being a parent…you’re the one that’s going to be there 24/7.”
Antoinette’s philosophy is that a foster parent is responsible for raising each child as they would their own, to be there for the long haul. But part of what surprised her was how much the match between child and parent matters, that determination and love aren’t always enough.
With the first child placed in her home, she found herself losing her smile and her upbeat personality. She had to acknowledge this wasn’t working for her or for the child. The child she now supports has as many challenges as her first but is a better match. They are both thriving. “It’s more important to focus on what you and the child actually need than to be a hero.”
What all kids need is structure and someone who’ll stand by them when they make mistakes. Often children in foster care have had little experience of either, so they need some time to learn how to respond and to heal. Antoinette encourages anyone who’s thought about becoming a foster parent to follow up that interest with Aspire. The need is great, and many different kinds of parents and circumstances can be successful when the time is right.
“You have to be emotionally ready. Ready to accept this child. They are going to come with a lot of struggles.” And a good family support system is important, too. Aspire case managers visit regularly and offer training and crisis support, but “sometimes you just need a break or someone to watch him while you take a walk.” A partner or a nearby friend who can help is key.
This isn’t easy work, but the rewards are profound. “For me, it’s seeing them comfortable and just being a kid. They have so much to think about, and seeing them actually enjoying being a kid is the best thing. To know that you have changed a kid’s life is the best feeling.”
* In 2022, the State of Connecticut implemented a new model of foster care and required all providers to submit proposals for the opportunity to continue serving children with complex needs. Aspire submitted a proposal with the hope and intention of continuing the Permanency Services program under the new model, but unexpectedly was not chosen. Aspire’s Permanency Services program ended on August 31, 2022. Read a tribute to the Aspire Permanency Services program, HERE.