For foster mother, kids are her passion [UPDATED]Published 8:47am Thursday, May 31, 2012 Updated 1:49pm Thursday, May 31, 2012
Her foster child gets off the bus and bounds into the house. After an enthusiastic exchange of greetings, Sheila Johnson asks the child: “What was your percentage?”
“(The) allowance is based on behavior,” she explains.
Johnson has been a licensed foster parent for 32 years, initially providing kinship care for her sister.
In the past couple of years as a foster parent for Otter Tail County Human Services, she estimates she has had about 20 children, about 16 were boys. Prior to serving in OTC, Johnson was a therapeutic foster parent through PATH in Fargo.
“I am very familiar with the foster system,” Johnson said.
Her motivation is to help children, she said.
“If I can help a child change and better themselves, that’s why I do it,” she said. “I help them get on the right path, or try to. I give them opportunities; open doors for them.”
Johnson works part time as the assistant deli manager at Sunmart, having transferred to Fergus Falls from a Fargo Sunmart a couple years ago. She is a single foster parent following a divorce 25 years ago.
She admits it is sometimes difficult parenting solo, but her managers have been accommodating with her work schedule to allow her to continue being a foster parent.
She has always enjoyed fostering children. In fact, when she moved to Fergus Falls, she looked for a house that would allow her the space to continue as a foster parent here.
Johnson runs a tight, but loving ship, if the apparent affection and courtesies extended by her foster child are any measure.
She runs the child to doctor, dentists and mental health appointments, makes sure chores and homework are completed, a bath is taken, bedroom is cleaned and she doles out discipline as needed. She is a task master regarding consistency and schedules.
“Rules have to be consistent,” she said. “If it’s no today, it will be no tomorrow and always. Kids need that and can understand that.”
Although she talks tough, Johnson has a soft spot for foster kids and the cards they have been dealt in life. She also knows how difficult entering a stanger’s home can be for a child.
“It’s sad for them,” she said. “They still miss their home, no matter what the circumstances were.”
Though Johnson acknowledged that her foster child has brought out the best in her, she also admitted parenting hasn’t come without sacrifices. Some of the kids she has fostered have been hard-core kids, requiring all her energy and effort and leaving little time for anything else. She has told friends to call only after the children are in bed.
“Your social life suffers,” she said. “It’s hard to date and you can’t just have anyone come in and watch the kids. Babysitters have to be checked out and approved by Human Services.”
Foster families have to be on their game all the time, and as a single parent, it’s especially important that Johnson set aside time for herself. To relax, she might watch TV, play solitaire on the computer or take her two dogs for a walk about the block to release stress.
But she wouldn’t trade her life as a foster parent for any other, she said.
“It’s difficult not to get close to (foster children). It’s so rewarding,” Johnson said. “(This child) really changed my life. It works both ways. They can help you, too. I became a better person. I wouldn’t give up my life.”