Family helps teen turn her life around

RIDGEFIELD -- Kristen Burns saw it as "a leap of faith."

Kyesha King, 16, left, has been helped by her relationship with Kristen Burns.
Kyesha King, 16, left, has been helped by her relationship with Kristen Burns with three children of her own and one adopted child already in her care, Burns might have considered there was no room in her life for another. 

"I once thought I'd never have more than two children but I suppose you can never say 'never,'" Burns said last week.

That's why two-and-a-half years ago the 42-year-old Ridgefield mother found it impossible to resist helping one troubled teenage girl who had nowhere to go.

As a licensed foster parent with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, Burns was asked to take care of the girl for just a few weeks until DCF officials found a permanent placement for her.

The girl, Kyesha King, then 14, had been born and raised in Danbury but came from a broken family. King left her biological mother when she was 6 years old and lived with an uncle who became her guardian until she went to a DCF foster home six years later.

"I could see she was at a crossroads," Burns recalled. "Her family was no longer involved with her or was able to support her. She had nowhere else to go."

In all, King stayed with the Burns family for three weeks before moving on to another DCF home.

"I got to know her story and her history and gradually we both got to know one another," said Burns.

King, now 16, still resides in a DCF group home in Danbury but has made so much progress in her behavior therapy and personal development during the past two years of knowing the Burns family that she continues to visit them on weekends and sometimes during the week.

"I asked them at the time if I could stay involved with Kyesha and maintain a relationship so I could support and encourage her," said Burns. "Today she's able to go to a public school and lead a more normal teenage life."

For King, an 11th-grade student at Danbury public schools' alternative high school, the transformation is clearly satisfying.

"I feel there's more structure in my life now," King said last week during a visit to the Burns' home on Lynn Place. "I feel more comfortable because I know there are people who are for me and not against me and that they want the best for me."

King is one of 70 children in the Danbury area who are either in foster care or in the care of DCF licensed relatives.

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said although there are 95 licensed homes available in the area, there is always the need for more.

"The more homes we have, the more options we can use to provide better placements for kids," said Kleeblatt. "We especially need homes for teenagers, kids who have medical needs and siblings we don't want to separate."

Kleeblatt described foster parents as "wonderful people doing a fantastic job" and said about 70 percent of them end up adopting the children assigned to them.

Burns and her husband, John, 46, became licensed DCF foster parents more than nine years ago after moving to Ridgefield.

The Burns, who have three of their own children, Timmy, 13, Nicholas, 11 and Madeline, 8, have also adopted one former foster child, Grace, 9, and are currently caring for a 7-month-old foster boy.

Kristen Burns, who once worked as a child advocate in the Chicago court system, said King has developed strong ties with the household.

"I'm really glad I took a leap of faith to help Kyesha," said Burns. "She has a wonderful relationship with my children. She's gone on vacation with us and comes to family celebrations. She's really considered one of the family."

Burns has bonded with King in a variety of ways, such as watching movies and going shopping together.

"These children have gaps and needs in their lives," said Burns. "They need someone to take them out to buy a dress for a dance or other clothes for special occasions."

Burns said that having foster children among them has taught her own children to become more independent.

"Everyone helps to take care of the baby and with chores such as washing dishes and doing the laundry," said Burns.

King's social worker, Cheryl Perry, finds King's relationship with the Burns family equally fulfilling.

"Those who take in foster teenagers are both rare and special because these kids have a range of issues," said Perry. "To see this happen makes you feel you have accomplished something and it's very satisfying to see foster parents interact with teenagers. In this case I'm glad to say I know these people."

Kristen Burns, a trained pediatric nurse and home health care worker, said being a foster parent is personally encouraging.

"I feel very fulfilled because I'm using my experience as a parent and my education as a nurse," said Burns. "It's also opened my eyes to the fact that there is a need for more foster parents."

Equally important for Kyesha King is the feeling of security.

"There were times when it was difficult for me to feel I could trust anyone," said King. "I was never in a set place so I couldn't connect with people. Now I feel I'm finally putting down some roots."

Contact Brian Saxton at or at (203) 731-3332.


Foster parents

Role: To provide a safe and nurturing environment for the well-being of children. Foster parents are also expected to play a role in supporting a child's biological parents and helping them address the challenges that led a child to be placed in the care of the Department of Children and Families.

Training: Candidates wanting to become foster parents undergo 10 weeks of training by the DCF.

For more information on how to become a foster parent call 1-888-YOU-BELONG (1-888-968-2356)