On May 16, 2008 the Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council sponsored its annual awards and recognition ceremony for the four foster care agencies that excel in the areas of dignity and respect or foster parent involvement. Implementation plans are required by the Foster Parent Law, which is described below.
Recognizing that foster parents are an essential part of and fulfill an integral role on the child welfare team, the Illinois General Assembly determined that there was a need to establish official public policy regarding the rights and the responsibilities of foster parents. This policy is known as the Foster Parent Law. This law requires that each DCFS region and every agency providing foster care by contract with DCFS is required to develop an annual plan to implement the law. This Council (Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council) is responsible for ensuring that the plans are submitted and scored each year. Plans must score a minimum of 75 out of 104 points to be accepted by the Council.
The four foster care agencies selected by the Statewide Council for recognition this year have submitted the following executive summaries describing the highlights of their 2008 implementation plans:
AUNT MARTHA’S YOUTH SERVICES
The Key Characteristics that made Aunt Martha's Youth Service Center implementation plan a success in the area of
Dignity and Respect are as follows.
- Selecting a foster family to receive a kitchen makeover and a cash bonus. (The project was sponsored by a grant from the General Electric Company.)
- Hosting Foster Parent Support Group meetings which give foster parents the opportunity to voice issues and concerns. The Foster Parent Liaison and committee members assist in finding solutions to issues discussed at the meetings. Recently the Program Administrator, Foster Parent Coordinator, and Intake Coordinator hosted lunch for key members of the committee to “brainstorm” regarding more effective ways to support agency foster parents.
- Conducting quarterly Town Hall Meetings in an effort to enhance the dialogue between foster parents and agency staff. These meetings serve as an avenue to “bridge the gap” of communication between the two parties. Various topics are discussed and the attendance average is 45 persons. Childcare and refreshments are also provided.
- Preparing a plan to diffuse potentially tense and/or difficult situations. (When such arises, a staffing must occur and the agency requests the services of a Foster Parent Advocate who helps to provide a supportive environment. (This is only if the foster parent is in agreement with the intervention).
CUNNINGHAM CHILDREN’S HOME
There is no magic formula for treating people with dignity and respect; it takes no charisma or exotic personality traits, and it is not the province of a chosen few. We all have the ability to generate a reaction in others through our commitment, passion, accessibility, being appreciative, listening and caring.
Mutual respect for the dignity of others at all levels is the number one characteristic of dignity and respect. Dignity and Respect cannot be summed up in just a few words due to its ability to go beyond mere words. Dignity and respect can be atmospheric; one can create a climate where people want to be a part of what you do. Dignity and respect can become a way of life, where you treat others the way you would want to be treated.
The most important characteristic of dignity and respect is integrity, which is the core in building trust to win the hearts and minds of people. This brings us to relationships which are key elements, because respect requires treating everyone as equals while encouraging our co-partners in achieving the shared vision of our work. Consistency, another element, builds trust. Our actions are closely watched and interpreted for consistency to ensure that we are walking what we talk. Trust is built through our actions and trust builds creditability. In communication, listening is the most important component of communicating. You listen to fully understand the perceptions, feelings, needs and concerns of others. Our foster families can rely on our ability to listen and hear their concerns.
Fairness and forgiveness are components of dignity and respect. We recognize that change always generates conflict and there is an important role for conflict in the process of dignity and respect. Change and adaptation , brings recognition for respecting others and reciprocates a change in how we respond while looking at change as opportunities, possibilities, potentialities and an adventure. Holding service above self encourages us to motivate and inspire others, while meeting the needs of those who are meeting the needs of our children.
Cunningham understands that dignity and respect requires a level of appreciation that values the differences in people, their ideas, their views and their individuality.
SHORE CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES
Arden Shore is proud to be recognized for describing exemplary
Foster Parent Involvement
. At Arden Shore, no one team member is any more important than another as every team member must be looked upon with respect, dignity and a sense of professionalism, regardless of their respective area of expertise. Foster parents are a major part of the multi-disciplinary professional team, which provides an array of services to children involved with the child welfare system. Foster parents have expertise through their foster parenting experience, along with education, vocational, and life experiences. They must be respected, listened to and given the status of any other professionals on the service team.
Foster parents are invited to attend court hearings, family meetings, administrative case reviews, and school meetings as well as other meetings related to case planning. The inclusion of foster parents in these meetings and events allows foster parents to give input, and to be heard as active members of the child welfare team. Besides being involved in case planning and other meetings for the child(ren), foster parents are encouraged to participate in and given information about local area groups and meetings that they can attend to interact with other foster parents. Arden Shore's bilingual Spanish-speaking staff allow for the inclusion of foster parents that do not speak English, and ensure that they are also valued members of our team.
Four years ago, Arden Shore created the "Foster Parent of the Year Award" that is given annually to a foster parent at the agency's Annual Meeting. This award recognizes the commitment and excellence the foster parent has demonstrated to their role in the child welfare arena. Given the large growth of Arden Shore's Foster Care program, it will be increasingly difficult to select only one foster parent of the year. We have many caring and dedicated foster parents who have the intrinsic motivation to help children with the need for stable placement.
LUTHERAN SOCIAL SERVICES OF ILLINOIS
The 2008 Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) was substantially rewritten this year with more foster parent and staff involvement than ever before. A key to obtaining this involvement was de-centralizing the agency's process for plan development.
In previous years, the plan liaison was responsible for making revisions with input from LSSI program sites and foster parents. The result was a plan that consistently received high scores, but was not as fully integrated into the day-to-day practice of caseworkers, licensing staff, supervisors and foster parents as desired. This year the decision was made to have the programs more highly involved and to request that the entire plan be re-scored, rather than just those sections that had been changed.
Because we have offices across the state, four workgroups were formed geographically with one workgroup each in Cook, Northern, Central, and Southern Regions. Each was assigned a group of rights and responsibilities to review and revise as needed. The regional workgroups were composed of foster parents, direct service and supervisory staff. The plan liaison provided technical assistance and helped assemble all of the sections into one final plan that had sign-off from everyone.
Rather than just reviewing a draft, foster parents were much more involved in the entire process and worked alongside the staff from their regions. The process was a great team-builder, in addition to resulting in an updated and simplified plan. Greater involvement of both staff and foster parents helped bring LSSI's plan off the shelf and into the real, everyday working lives of the entire child welfare team who now have more investment in and knowledge of the Foster Parent Law and LSSI's plan to implement it.