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‘Sister:’ Former Caritas foster parent looks through a child’s lens, authors book about fostering

The book “Sister” launches publicly this month; a  flagship project of new publishing house Phoenix Media & Books, owned by Katie Otey of O’Fallon, Ill.

Former Caritas Family Solutions’ foster parent writes children’s book about fostering through the lens of a child. (Submitted photo)

More than 600,000 children move through the foster care system across the nation each year, yet books about what the foster care experience is like for those families are in short supply.

Leia M. Johnson, a mother who fostered and later adopted two children through Caritas Family Solutions, recently published a children’s book called “Sister.” Johnson is a former O’Fallon, Ill. resident.

Inspired by her own family’s adoption journey, “Sister” illustrates one family’s experience with foster care and adoption told through the eyes of a child. The book helps potential foster parents and children understand what it’s like to be a part of a family that has helped children in temporary and permanent care.

“Fostering children can involve some of the deepest joy and the deepest grief,” said Johnson. “The juxtaposition can be hard for adults to process, let alone children, and my hope is that this book will be a conversation starter. I wanted to share the process of fostering and highlight what it means to make a family. Making a family takes love, grace, and trust and sometimes that family is found and doesn’t look like you expect it to.”

Johnson’s inspiration for writing the book was driven by her experience as a foster parent. Written from the perspective of a biological child in the home, Johnson was able to share the nuances of emotions that the whole family experiences on an age-appropriate level for children. The book also aims to correct some common misconceptions about foster care, including the idea that most cases lead to adoption.

As the state’s second largest provider of foster care services, Caritas CEO Gary Hueslmann said over the last year, his agency served more than 2,900 children and their families. He said the details Johnson captured in the book perfectly reflect the nonprofit’s mission and the realities of foster care.

“We always take pride at Caritas when we see any of our former foster or adoptive families going on to do great things, but this book is particularly special to us,” said Huelsmann. “It captures the essence of our mission and what it means to love and care for others even when it is hard. We hope this book will lead more families to consider opening their homes to a foster child.”

Caritas Family Solutions employee Leah Riesenberger served as a case assistant for the kids in Johnson’s care and was one of the first to get a copy of the book when it was released. “I looked at the dedication page and started crying,” said Riesenberger. “The book was phenomenal. It really tells the truth of foster care and adoption and helps people understand that adoption is not always rainbows, laughter and sunshine. It’s ok to feel happy and sad at the same time because there are a lot of complex emotions throughout the foster care journey.”

“Sister” is the flagship project of the newly formed publishing house Phoenix Media & Books, owned by Katie Otey of O’Fallon, Ill. S.J. Winkler, formerly of Southern Illinois, illustrated the project. Those interested in purchasing Johnson’s book can find it on Amazon’s website.

About Caritas Family Solutions

Founded in 1947, Caritas Family Solutions is a nonprofit social service agency whose mission is to strengthen the social and emotional well-being of individuals and families in order to create healthy relationships, loving homes, and strong communities. Services include adoption, pregnancy care for women who are homeless, foster care, intact services, counseling, residential treatment for children healing from abuse and/or neglect, independent living for adults with developmental disabilities (CILA), and assisted living and employment assistance for low-income seniors. Caritas serves more than 7,000 individuals annually across Southern Illinois from offices located in Belleville, Carterville, Mount Vernon, Olney, Glen Carbon, Alton, and Effingham as well as satellite locations in Highland and Sparta. For additional information, visit

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