child welfare agency

Gordon Johnson (child welfare advocate)

For other uses of the name Gordon Johnson, see Gordon Johnson.

Gordon Johnson is the Founder, President and CEO of Neighbor To Family, Inc., a not-for-profit foster care organization whose mission is keeping siblings together.

Johnson was born in 1933 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Psychology 1958 from Thiel College, Greenville, Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling in 1963 from Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.


Johnson began his career in 1959 as a cottage officer at New Jersey State Home for Boys and rose through the ranks in child welfare agencies in Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.

In 1979 Johnson was named Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services under Director Gregory Coler and Governor “Big” Jim Thompson. In 1983, Johnson was appointed Director of DCFS, taking over responsibility for programs serving 600,000 children and families, including 50,000 foster children.

Separation of Siblings in Foster Care

During his tenure, Johnson was deeply troubled by the sight of children being taken from their parents because of abuse or neglect, arriving in police cars at a state shelter, dragging their toys and clothes in black garbage bags, and then being further traumatized by being taken away from their brothers and sisters because few foster homes could accommodate sibling groups. In many cases, the separation was permanent as the children were adopted by different families.

Sibling Foster Care Model

Johnson left DCFS in 1990 to become President of the Jane Adams Hull House Association in Chicago. There, in 1994, he developed the “Neighbor To Neighbor” sibling foster care program, with these basic elements:

  • Sibling groups would be placed together in a single foster home;
  • Birth parents would be supported while being held accountable for their children;
  • Foster parents would be professionalized, with a monthly salary and benefits;
  • Involving, and being accountable to, funding agencies;
  • Planning for reunification or permanency would be a team effort involving the parents, foster parents, staff, family, friends and the community.

The Neighbor To Neighbor program attracted national attention in child welfare circles, and in 1998 Johnson was invited by Florida child welfare officials and State Representative Evelyn Lynn to bring the program to Daytona Beach, Florida, where it was founded as Neighbor To Family.

Growth of Neighbor To Family

Neighbor To Family continued to expand, and by 2008 had an annual budget of about $30 million with programs in Daytona Beach, Miami, and Orlando in Florida; Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Hampton Roads, Virginia; and Haywood County, North Carolina. About 2,000 children are under the care of the agency every day.

National Recognition

National recognition of Johnson’s advocacy of sibling foster care includes the 2006 Samuel Gerson Nordlinger Child Welfare Leadership Award from the Alliance for Children and Families. The award recognizes contributions to the field of child welfare and the national public policy process to advance the quality of services for children and families.

In 2007, Johnson was one of five top recipients of the second annual Purpose Prize, awarded by Civic Ventures of San Francisco, to recognize innovators over the age of 60. Johnson was honored for, “Developing programs to prevent the separation of siblings in foster care.”


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