« 2023 Annual Report

Foster care: Expanding Services to Help More Youth

Foster care in Connecticut has been transformed to build brighter futures for kids. Working in partnership with the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), The Village is implementing a new evidence-based model and has become one of the largest foster care providers in the state.

Research shows that children do best when raised with their families of origin. While this may not always be possible, the state’s new foster care model, called Functional Family Therapy – Foster Care, helps families involved with DCF address and overcome challenges they’re facing. At the same time, it ensures that youth are safe and live in stable and supportive homes. Whenever possible, The Village and DCF work hard to keep families together.

“The goal all the time for foster care is reunification. If children can’t be kept safe at home and have to temporarily come into foster care, those lengths of stay need to be short,” explained DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes. “It’s so critical to include the biological family and the foster family so that parents can work in concert to address a child’s needs.”

When a child enters foster care through DCF, The Village and DCF rise to meet the family where they are. Ideally, a child remains in their home while support is put in place to address issues that led to DCF’s involvement.

Sometimes, children need to live with a relative or family friend while issues are addressed at home. If no relative can provide a home, youth are paired with foster parents who step in to provide short-term “respite” care for about three to nine months.

When reunification is not possible, foster families may choose to continue fostering for a longer term. In some cases, foster parents may choose to adopt.

Many foster parents now also provide temporary relief to fellow foster parents who need childcare for an evening or weekend. This means that more foster parents are needed, but for a shorter time.

While the model has changed, the need is greater than ever. On a given day in Connecticut, there are thousands of youth in foster care and nearly 100 in need of a safe and stable home.

Today, The Village’s foster care program covers Greater Hartford, Manchester, New Britain and surrounding towns, and is one of the largest and most comprehensive programs in the state.

Youth supported by The Village’s program have life experiences that have impacted them in complex ways. In a collaborative effort between DCF, The Village and dedicated foster parents, youth and their families receive individualized support they need to heal and grow.

“They’re part of our family unit. They know we love them to pieces, and they can give that love back to us. It’s the best thing you can give a child.”
Jenna Nikirk, Village Foster Parent

Meet Jenna

Jenna Nikirk always wanted to be a mom. She had considered fostering—with the hope of adopting—as a way to start her family. Eventually, she and her husband Chris learned that it may be the only way.

“There are many ways to start a family. When we had some challenges getting started, a dear friend led us to The Village, and that’s how I began the process,” shared Jenna.

After completing thorough training with The Village, Jenna and Chris officially became licensed foster parents and welcomed a three-year-old boy to their home. That same day, as they signed the paperwork, they learned a home was needed for one of his siblings. With room in their home—and plenty in their hearts—they soon welcomed his twelve-year-old brother, too.

Jenna will never forget the look on the younger boy’s face when he was reunited with his big brother two days later. It was a major comfort to both boys, who had already been through so much.

“The situation left them with no stability and no sense of safety,” said Jenna. “The Village has helped us be more equipped and prepared to provide them with what they needed to heal. The first thing we want to do is make sure they feel safe. That’s the number one priority.”

Backed by 24/7 support from The Village’s foster care staff and clinicians, Jenna and Chris can help support the boys’ unique needs, some of which have come about because of all they’ve been through.

“One of the things I’m proud of in this journey to becoming a mom is that I am able to provide two children of very different ages, who have very different needs, with something they did not have before. A sense of stability. A sense of family,” shared Jenna.

Today, the boys have been with Jenna and Chris for more than a year. As their foster parents, they ensure the boys have regular visits with their other siblings and stay connected. They’re getting the opportunity to be just like other kids, celebrating birthdays and making new friends. The youngest is learning to swim.

To top it all off, Jenna and Chris have begun the process to adopt them.

“When I reflect on what they were like when they first came to us and how they are now, they’re different people,” shared Jenna. “They’re part of our family unit, and they know that. They know we love them to pieces, and they can give that love back to us. It’s the best thing you can give a child.”

“I had a great foster family, and because of that I can now raise my own child in a way that I know is positive.”
Ernest Davis, Former Village Foster Child

Meet Ernest

At the end of his foster care journey, Ernest Davis found a loving place that finally felt like home. As a ward of the state from a young
age, Ernest grew up mostly in group homes, hospitals and other settings before he eventually entered The Village’s foster care program as a teen.

At first, entering foster care felt new and scary. He had been through a lot and didn’t have a strong sense of what home would feel like, but he stayed hopeful. Eventually his journey led him to his new family. At 23, he’s still involved in their lives. His foster mom has become, more simply, just “Mom.”

“Under the law they are my foster family, but to me they’re more than that,” Ernest said. “They never judged me, and that goes a long way. Even today when I walk into
the house, it feels like home.” His foster family is still a major source of support and motivation, especially as Ernest enters adulthood.

His family provided him with structure and key learning experiences he needed to grow. Most of all, he says, they never gave up.

“No matter how much stuff I had going on, they never turned their backs on me,” shared Ernest. “Even as an adult they stick with me, like any other family.”

Today, Ernest is a father. He holds the important lessons his foster parents taught him close to his heart and imparts them to his daughter, ensuring she knows what a loving and supportive family feels like.

“I had a great foster family, and because of that I can now raise my own child in a way that I know is positive,” he said.

Ernest is still in contact with many of the mentors and support team from throughout his life who helped him through transitions and growing up when he didn’t have anyone else.

“I really appreciate all the help I got from The Village and my social worker at DCF. I had the right people on my side helping me get to where I am today. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be.”

Ernest’s time in foster care has also inspired a new goal for him to encourage other youth in care and let them know they can overcome whatever challenges they’re facing.

“I want other kids in the system who are going through a hard time to know that the phase isn’t permanent, and they can change their life in a positive way and can get through it. There’s hope, and it takes time, but there are blessings. I want them to enjoy being a kid whenever they can and enjoy having a home environment and remember that someone is looking out for them.” ◼


The Village is now one of the largest foster care providers in the state.

Foster parents are backed by

support from The Village.

On any given day in Connecticut,


kids are in need of safe and stable homes.

“We’ve partnered with The Village to enhance our foster care system. As partners we produce great things when we link arms with each other.”
Vannessa Dorantes, Commissioner, CT Department of Children & Families