She loved teaching music and wasn’t looking for a change in careers; but life experiences eventually prompted a new direction.
“We adopted two children, Susan and Tommy, when they were newborn babies,” Joan says. Next, they had a biological son who died at 2, Eddie, and a daughter, Janet. “When Janet was 2 years old, we adopted Ricky, who is disabled,” she explains. “He was 14 at the time – that was 1978.”
She didn’t know it then, but adopting Ricky was the starting point of her new career.
“He was hard to place because he’s almost totally deaf and has a language processing disability,” she explains, adding that Ricky is now happily married.
“He was from an agency that was dedicated to getting children placed into homes permanently,” Joan says. “After that we adopted two boys who were brothers – they were 12 and 13. Their parents were both alcoholics, and had been severely abused.”
Their relationship with the agency led them to begin fostering children. “Over a 15 year period, we had about 11 kids in foster care,” Joan says. “We never had more than seven kids in the house at one time because that was really all we could accommodate comfortably.”
Soon, the agency asked Joan to lead groups for foster parents. She realized that while she had a lot of life experience, she didn’t have the formal training.
While still teaching music, she began to take evening classes toward a master’s degree to become a licensed family therapist.
“It was not easy going back to school when I was 48,” Joan says. “[But] when I got into that course of study I loved every minute of it.”
She graduated at age 50 and took a job at a mental health center that worked with family preservation and reunification. Joan also continued her education at the Family Institute of Cambridge. “It was connected to Harvard Medical School, so I came in touch with all the best therapists in the area. They would come out to do workshops with my staff.”
Joan was able to help start a new program called FamilyWorks as the director. The program was a great success with a much higher than average success rate at keeping children in the home and reunifying families. “We didn’t get paid a lot to do that kind of work, but it was very, very important,” she says. “It was challenging, but extremely rewarding.
“I did that until I retired in 1997,” she continues. “I was a family therapist for around 15 or 16 years.”
Today, Joan travels with her husband, Tom, and they spend time with their children and grandchildren.
For those considering changing careers later in life, Joan offers the following advice: “I’d say ‘Go for it’ if you feel you really want to do it and you have a good reason.”
Joan hasn’t regretted her decision one bit.