Watson Foster Care
Osayande and Nanyamko Watson had a unique perspective on foster care when they decided to become foster parents in the early 90s. As employees of the Cook County Correctional Facility, the Watsons saw first-hand the struggles of adolescent African-American males.
Osayande, who worked at the correctional facility for 30 years before his retirement, saw a void in the mentorship of young people.
"The young people I saw come in didn't seem to have a lot of guidance," he says. "I tried to be that somebody to help them with their problems. It came very easy."
Growing up in foster care, Nanyamko lived in 4 homes before she was 18. Her final home was "fantastic," enabling her to transition successfully into adulthood. So when health issues meant she could no longer work full-time, Nanyamko turned her attention to helping children like herself.
Many children have come through the welcoming doors of the Watsons' home over the past 24 years. 3 have stayed permanently. Jawanza was their first adopted son, now grown and living in Colorado. Then came Jahlani and 5 years later Jahari. They are currently in the process of permanently adopting 2 more boys.
"We know that African-American boys with special needs are the hardest to place, and their adoption rate is almost zero," Osayande says.
The Watsons thrive working with African-American boys with special needs, believing they have the tools to set them up for success.
"I think I have a great nurturing ability," Osayande says. "Everyone seems to come to me when a crisis is on. I'm very structured, sometimes probably to a fault. They can pretty much know how I'm going to do things."
Nanyamko admits she is the stricter, more disciplined side of the pair. She rose to the rank of captain in only 10 years at the Cook County Correctional Facility. She has her empathetic side, however, having lived through the same experiences her children do, moving in and out of foster homes.
"I think in that respect they can relate to me and know they're not alone in what they can experience," she says. "They’ll talk with me about it because they know that I know."
It takes a unique couple to face the challenges of fostering and parenting children with special needs. "I haven't had anyone like them," says Gail Jackson, the licensing representative responsible for the Watsons at LSSI's Augustana office. "They are such good foster parents because they mirror each other. I think that is why it is so easy for them to work with children who have special needs. They don’t look at it that way—they just see that the child needs a home."
A home is what they have provided. Along with their soon-to-be 5 adopted boys, they have 4 birth children as well. Add in their 9 grandchildren and the many, many children who have spent an extended period of time within their walls, and they have parented, mentored, and loved almost 30 children.
"For all of those people who say 'How do you do it? I could never do it.' I just say, 'How do you not?!'" Nanyamko says. "I forget I didn't give birth to these kids because I love them exactly the same. I can't really tell the difference."