First Lady Tonette Walker

Foster family recognized for work

By Ed Zagorski, Baraboo New Republic
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mother’s Day was longer than expected for Tammy Johnson this year.

Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker and state Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson recognized Tammy Johnson and her husband, Bill, for their commitment to foster children in Sauk County by honoring the Baraboo couple with the 2012 Governor’s Foster Care Award.

In Wisconsin, more than 6,500 children live in out-of-home care, and about 4,000 foster homes are available, according to the state’s department children and families.

“It was a total shock to receive this award,” Tammy said. “I was just really surprised that we were given this great honor.”

The Governor’s Foster Care Award is reserved for foster parents who go beyond what is expected to meet the needs of foster children and advocate on their behalf.

The Johnsons, who already have 15- and 17-year-old girls, became licensed foster parents in September and took placement of three siblings in October. The two girls are one and two years old, respectively; and the boy is four. The Johnsons have had the three siblings as children for seven months now.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for about seven years now and last spring we decided to act on it,” Tammy said. “We know there is a need for parents to take in children and we wanted to be those types of parents.”

Although the couple already has two teenage daughters, Bill said the three toddlers have made an impact on the couple’s marriage.

“It’s not always easy, but it’s good,” he said. “In the beginning, it was really difficult to bring three siblings into a home where they’re not used to living, but it has brought out the best in our family.”

Tammy said when the children first came to Baraboo she and her husband had to get on the children’s level of thinking and build their trust.

Bill said having the three toddlers has made him and his wife spend their time in a more “intentional” manner.

“Having the toddlers has made us a closer, tighter-knit family,” he said. “All of us have to chip in and to help them.”

Becky Connell, executive director for Wisconsin operations for Anu Family Services in Madison, helped place the three siblings with the Johnsons.
She said there is a need for more families to step up like the Johnsons and foster children.

“We will meet with either single- or two-parent families to see if they fit,” Connell said.

Some of the qualifications of being a foster parent include working well in tandem with the other parent, a school, church and local medical providers in their city.

“We are looking for people who are confident in their child-rearing abilities and who are able to accept suggestions when needed,” she said.
Connell said being a foster parent is not always easy, but it is a rewarding experience.

“It’s wonderful to see these youngsters grow and begin to understand the world around them,” Bill said. “They are just hungry for knowledge.”

“We just want to be the best parents we can be for these children,” Tammy said

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