Fostering a Family Engagement Philosophy
By Rebecca Nallon, Program Technical Assistant
Jessica and Anthony Johnson with their children, Savannah and Beau
Dubbed “one of the most amazing families,” Anthony and Jessica Johnston are setting the gold standard for what it means to be a foster and adoptive family. The couple was awarded a Permanent Family Recognition award at the 2023 Pennsylvania Permanency Conference for their outstanding record in providing quality care to children and families. The family has adopted twice, in addition to ongoing foster care, supporting reunification efforts, and raising awareness of the need for many hands to lighten the hard work of child welfare.
The Johnstons have internalized the core principles of foster care and made it their mission since 2019 to be co-parents with the first family, continuing supportive and caring relationships past the formal system discharge dates. According to Jessica, “we always thought we would do whatever we could to get children back with their families first.” This hard, hard work is both painful and deeply rewarding.Jessica described the parents of their former foster son as “such great people” who were isolated from their family out of state. The Johnstons became “their only support here,” and the families have only continued to grow closer since reunification was successful.
The couple is “totally open to birth families” and regrets not having the chance to support parents who weren’t ready to connect with them in the process. Jessica jokes that daughter Savannah’s birth mother is “stuck with me forever now,” reflecting how the situation that brought them together happened for a reason, now that Savannah has been adopted by the Johnstons.
TheJohnstons’ support for the child’s first family, at times, is the push that families need to be successful in achieving their reunification goals. For instance, the Johnstons commit to frequent sibling and family visitations, independently seek out supplies and resources to bolster the first family’s ability to meet the needs of their children, and serve as mentors for both first families and other families in their community that are curious about becoming resource parents. Currently, the family is helping to secure a rent-to-own house for one family they support.
Bringing the community and families together is part of what makes Anthony and Jessica outstanding. Their example has helped to “stomp out the stigma surrounding foster care,” according to Rachel Sementuh of Westmoreland County Children and Youth, who nominated them for the award. In addition to their formal role as a resource family, the couple also volunteers and donates to many causes that support the families with whom they work. And their enthusiasm is contagious: Westmoreland County Children and Youth has reported that many families approached them with an interest in fostering after meeting the Johnstons. Jessica encourages families who have any interest in fostering at all to just call and check it out. She recalls that one such family first came to their home to make repairs, and they just started talking. That family has now adopted their first child, and the families are now part of one another’s support network.
The couple remains humble about their impact in the community. Jessica says she just loves talking about and encouraging foster care. She wants other families to know that it’s “quite doable – you can do it. There can never be too many people to love a child.”As a family that supports the full spectrum of permanency, from reunification to adoption, the Johnstons have shown that small acts of kindness, flexibility, genuine caring, and a strong support network can make a huge impact on permanency.