John and Joanne Dworsky raised a son and are expecting their first grandchild, but they continue to open their hearts and home to children through KidsPeace’s foster care program.
Since the Lehighton area couple became foster parents in 1997, they have had six long-term placements and a handful of respite cases. Three children got adopted from their care, and many still keep in touch. Joanne said she always wanted to be a foster mom, but when she broached the subject with her son when he was growing up, he wasn’t receptive to the idea.
Once he was in graduate school, the Dworskys took in their first child. Since they had one child of their own, they’ve found they do well with longer-term placements of one child at a time. But they have accepted some respite cases, where children stay for up to about a month to give other foster families a break. Though they have traditionally taken in teenagers, Joanne laughed when she recalled the time they got two 2-year-olds for a couple of weeks and she and John scrambled to keep up with them.
They have seen children from a variety of backgrounds – some have been abused, others have parents in jail, many have never been taught basic hygiene or study skills. But there is one thing the Dworskys have found all children need – structure.
John said many of the children were told for years that they were stupid or would never amount to anything, so he and his wife make it their mission to encourage each child to live up to his or her true potential.
“You can be anything you want to be as long as you’re willing to work at it,” he tells them.
While the children are in their care, the Dworskys make them feel like a part of the family. This may take the form of interacting with their teachers, taking them on outdoor adventures, doling out chores or making sure they have proper clothing.
“Most of them come with a plastic bag full of stuff, and half of it doesn’t fit,” John said. “They don’t have much of their own identity.”
Joanne has found that every child, no matter the age or gender, loves helping her in the kitchen.
“I think they just like anything that’s one-on-one,” she said. “When they think they’re doing something good, they just light up.”
John says the toughest part is often dealing with biological parents who don’t show up for arranged visits. Joanne acknowledges it can also be difficult to remember the children are with them on a temporary basis. She makes sure to never show her emotions when it’s time for a child to leave them.
“The whole idea for us was to treat them the way we treat our own child. So when you bring them in, they deserve everything you can give them,” she said. “The most meaningful thing I get out of it is that when the kids leave here, they’ve experienced a happy, safe home and they see they deserve it. I’ve planted a seed and somewhere down the road, they’ll see that.”
Right now, the Dworksys are serving as foster grandparents once a month for a 13-year-old girl whose grandparents live on the West Coast. Both laud their KidsPeace caseworkers and say they’ll continue taking in foster children as long as they’re able.
“For me, foster parenting has just given me a lot of joy,” Joanne said.