NAFI’s foster care program, the Professional Parent Program (PPP) was the agency’s first program to open its doors in the state of Connecticut in 1994. PPP began by serving youth out of the old Long Lane School in Middletown, part of the state juvenile justice system. The goal was to deinstitutionalize youth by taking them out of that system and into foster care, recalled Amy Lefebvre, Assistant Executive Director of NAFI CT.
As NAFI’s foster care program evolved over the years, its positive impact intensified with more and more foster families choosing to adopt or embrace a transfer of guardianship. Much of this success can be attributed to NAFI CT’s longtime Director of Foster Care Services and guiding light of the agency’s Professional Parent Program, Liz Sitler.
“At first kids stayed in foster homes for years and aged out,” says Sitler “but we really tried to focus on helping kids reunify, having families adopt, or assisting with a transfer of guardianship. Ultimately it leads to permanency, which is the best possible outcome for kids.”
In fact, for the fiscal year that ended this past June 30, NAFI saw eight youth in its foster care program graduate from high school—on the heels of the pandemic—and an impressive 90 percent of NAFI foster youth achieved their permanency goals.
This year, as the Family First Act moved funding to more evidence-based models, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) embraced the Functional Family Therapy model for foster care and took a regional approach that attaches services to the six DCF offices in the state. This shift ultimately meant selecting new foster care service providers and the closure of NAFI CT’s Professional Parent Program.
As this amazing program closes its doors, NAFI CT pauses to honor the incredible work of Sitler and the entire Professional Parent Program Team.
“Our foster care team, with Liz at the helm all these years, just had the ‘it’ factor. The impact they have had on these kids, has positively changed the trajectory of so many lives,” Lefebvre said.
“I am confident it saved many children lives and it enriched the lives of many foster parents,” Dr. Yitzhak Bakal, President and founder of NAFI/NFI, wrote in a note of appreciation to Sitler. (See the full note at the end.)
“Liz is just an amazing human. She’s just brilliant in her leadership, bringing out the best in everyone’s abilities, and she treats kids and families like her own. They were a close-knit team, and they had a good time to doing it together. Her team’s motto was ‘life-long family,’ and that applied not only to the foster youth and families but also to the team,” continued Lefebvre.
“Foster care is hard work and it affects all of us, and we take it home. The strong relationships we had is what kept us in it so long,” said Sitler, who first joined NAFI in 1996. “Three of us have been together for the 12 years,” Sitler said. “Danielle Kleczkowski was a Clinical Director and Melissa Niver was a Family Worker and we always just made it work no matter the challenge!”
With the conclusion of foster care services, six members of the team have found other roles within NAFI CT and three have moved on to opportunities outside of the agency. As for Sitler, she will be guiding NAFI’s efforts to open a new outpatient clinic in Hartford. It will be modeled on the one NAFI CT operates in Willimantic, which provides holistic psychiatric and clinical counseling to children and adolescents ages 6-18 and their families. The vision for the new clinic includes the addition of substance abuse programming, as well as a focus on services tailored to the LGBTQ population.
And while the Professional Parent Program is closing, the impact on the youth and families served will live on for years to come. One of those families sent the foster care team this note:
Thank you for all your help! We/I could never do this alone. They say it takes a Village to raise a child and You, definitely are that village!!! You will be Blessed for all you’ve done! God Bless you.
A youth that family cared for added this sentiment as part of a longer note:
I came into DCF scared, praying every night that whoever I would be with would be a person that lifted me up not brought me down. I moved in with Bernice J. (foster parent) at age 15 and she worked with NAFI. I barely even knew how to make a bed properly, cook, or clean. I was running off to the streets with bad people I didn’t even know when I first moved with Bernice. NAFI provided the funds to Bernice’s cousin’s horse barn that taught me social skills, and protected me from being home alone where I could make bad decisions. NAFI saved my life, Katie Pronovost, the NAFI social worker, and Bernice never gave up on me they treated me like family …
These sentiments of gratitude are shared by everyone at NAFI CT as the foster care team members and Sitler move on to their next challenges.
Lynn Bishop, Executive Director, expressed her deepest appreciation and respect for how the team was able to transition the program’s families and youth to new agencies with the utmost dignity and care. Bishop stated, “I remain in awe of the Professional Parent Program as over the past 30 years there have been so many accomplishments and lives changed due to the talented and dedicated teams that have worked in the program over the years. Most recently, Liz and her team have been the epitome of a successful team and program – dedicated to the youth, foster and biological families and each other – every day of the week, 24 hours a day. Thank you Liz, Danielle, Melissa, Shakora, Melly, Katie, Kate, Clancee and Shannon! It is with great sadness that this chapter is closed and I am truly grateful and appreciative to have been a part of such an exemplary program that has truly made life-long family ties for so many.”
NOTE FROM DR. BAKAL
As you and your amazing team are saying goodbye to the foster care program we all loved appreciated, I am writing to let you know that the closing does not take away or diminish the wonderful record of help it provided over the many years of its existence. I am confident it saved many children lives and it enriched the lives of many foster parents. The program supported failing families and gave tremendous satisfaction to the many foster families who needed to find meaning in their lives. I still vividly remember the warmth and camaraderie displayed during my participation in a luncheon meeting that you and your team put together to acknowledge and honor the foster parents. You created a community and a large family of the foster families. I am proud of the team accomplishments over the years. You were a role model for other NAFI/NFI programs to learn from and follow. Thank you for your help to other part of our organization.
Please convey to the rest of the team my thanks on behalf of the entire NAFI/NFI community. Your Foster care program started very early in the life of NAFI-CT organization and has written a wonderful chapter of in the history of excellence of care we provided over the years.
Dr. Yitzhak Bakal
North American Family Institute