FORT KNOX, Ky. - With over 437,000 children and youth in foster care across the United States, one 1st Theater Sustainment Command family decided to make a difference.
Sgt. Calan Johnson, mortuary affairs noncommissioned officer, 1st TSC, and his wife Ashley Rodriguez fostered children for two years with no experience or intentions of becoming foster parents.
Johnson explained that he and his wife had not planned on it, but when the time came, they were both on board with it.
“We saw a booth fair at the Sadowsky Center one year, and we didn't want to sound rude and not talk to the group because we were waiting on a different booth,” he said.
Johnson and his wife were sold on the idea of becoming foster parents after talking to foster care representatives. Of the approximately 437,000 children in foster care, 397,122 children are living without permanent families.
Between January 2019 to January 2021, they fostered 11 children ranging anywhere from six months to 18 years old.
“Between that timeline, we fostered approximately 11 children,” Johnson said. “We had the two children that we adopted who were siblings, we had another set of three that were siblings, and we had two 14-year-old teenagers that were siblings as well,” he explained.
“The crazy thing is there are so many children that need foster homes, but not enough foster parents,” Johnson stressed.
What influenced him and his wife to foster was that they realized they did not have the best upbringings.
Johnson was born in New Bern, North Carolina, but moved to Kerrville, Texas, after his parents divorced at the age of four.
“We wanted to provide a safe haven for children that needed it,” he said.
Johnson believes fostering not only helps the children but also helps with family reunification.
“Fostering gives the parents time to take care of what they need to and become better people so that they can help take care of their children,” he said.
He and his wife ended up adopting the first children they fostered.
Fostering and adopting can be easy for some and hard for others - Johnson and his wife had a little bit of both.
“I think the most challenging time was fostering our two teens. They didn't realize the things that had happened to them, so they didn't understand their trauma, and trying to get them both to understand it was difficult for them,” he said.
According to the Child Trends Organization, 15% of children have been physically abused or sexually abused.
While in the process of adopting his daughters, Lexi, 3, and Ava, 4, their other family members tried to claim the children - this was also a challenge for them.
“We were going through the process of adoption with our children, and just every week there were multiple family members trying to claim the children, and we just had the doubt of, you get attached to the children, what happens if somebody else pops up and decides they want the children?” said Johnson.
This adoption process took four months and required a lot of classes, meetings, training and background checks.
“We had to do a background check, a financial check, you also had to do a home study, so they make sure that you have a home and enough space to take care of the children. They also ask for references so that they're not just giving children to anybody. You also have to go through CPR classes, life-saving classes, around 40 hours of training ranging from understanding trauma in children and understanding signs of abuse,” he explained.
All of this was worth it in the end.
Johnson said that Lexi and Ava are obsessed with musicals.
“Every morning, we have to play Mamma Mia,” he said.
He and his family also like to participate in other hobbies like singing, dancing, pageants, and playing with babies.
“They participate in pageants, and Lexi is Little Miss Fort Knox, and Ava is Tiny Miss Fort Knox,” he said.
Johnson also thinks his daughters got into these hobbies because of his wife.
“My wife really enjoys singing and dancing, and I think that's what really got my daughters into it. My wife was a Golden Girl and danced in high school, and she enjoys musicals as well,” he said.
Johnson couldn't stress enough that people should go into this process with an open mind.
“Go in with an open mind, and have patience, and understand that every story could be different… Just because the big stigma is that children that are in foster care are always going to have some type of bad background story, they don't know how to listen, but it's not always the case. A lot of the children in foster care are very well behaved,” he said.
“With every child, there's a new story,” he said.