On June 10, 2011 the Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council (Council) sponsored its annual awards and recognition ceremony for three foster care agencies; two whose 2011 Foster Parent Law implementation plans excel in the area of dignity and respect, and one in the area of user-friendliness/organization. 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 private agency providing foster care by contract with DCFS develop an annual plan to implement the Law. The 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 three foster care agencies selected by the Council for recognition this year have submitted the following executive summaries describing the highlights of their 2011 implementation plans:
Hephzibah Children’s Association
The past year of foster care at Hephzibah has included many exciting and challenging new things. Hephzibah is constantly carrying out its mission of using innovative services to meet the needs of children and families. In turn, foster parents have shown continuous commitment, dedication, and love for the children in Hephzibah’s foster care program. Foster parents are considered a vital part of the foster care team and take great pride in maintaining positive, solid relationships with foster parents and children. Hephzibah staff is trained to communicate professionally, politely and positively with our foster parents and to be flexible and responsive to their needs.
The Foster Parent Advisory Committee at Hephzibah has developed into a cohesive group that has direct participation in important decisions made by the agency. Family Camp, a new program this year, was conceived by the Foster Parent Advisory Committee in order to bring families together in a relaxed setting for mutual support and fun activities to strengthen family bonds. Foster parents were instrumental in planning and facilitating a three day overnight weekend of activities and adventures at a local YMCA camp.
Hephzibah has successfully utilized foster parents as leaders and empowered them to utilize their individual strengths and experiences to provide successful family experiences for children in foster care. By responding to foster parents’ strengths, they are encouraged to remain committed to the children in their care. Hephzibah includes foster parents in all components of service, which not only empowers them as caregivers, but ultimately ensures a safe, structured, loving environment for a child who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
Kemmerer Village’s Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan is based upon the principle that Foster Parents are the primary agents of change in the lives of the children and families the agency serves. As such, the Foster Parent is a central member of the agency’s child welfare team assigned to each child and family case. The services provided by the other members of the child welfare team are focused on supporting the Foster Parents’ abilities and efforts to meet the children and families needs. Kemmerer Village’s 2011 Implementation Plan outlines the methods used by its staff to uphold this principle.
A critical component to any well functioning, professional team is frequent and clear communication among its members. Kemmerer Village Foster Parents are provided with all available information about a foster child prior to the actual placement decision. Any pertinent information about the child’s family is shared too. Foster Parents are involved in any meetings regarding case planning, decisions effecting the foster child’s placement, and meetings with the biological family to discuss progress and concerns. The agency provides its Foster Parents with the phone numbers of their Kemmerer Village Case Worker, Program Director, and Assistant Executive Director, as well as a quarterly On-Call schedule for round-the-clock assistance. The Program Director holds monthly meetings open to all Foster Parents where any changes in rules or procedures can be shared and discussed.
Another important aspect to the agency’s Implementation Plan is to provide its Foster Parents with sufficient training opportunities to increase their knowledge and expertise to meet some of the very specific needs of the foster children under their care. The agency provides financial support for Foster Parents to attend off-site training; as well as trainings provided at Kemmerer Village’s campus. Foster Parents have access to the agency’s Lending Library which contains books, audio and video training materials on a variety of child treatment topics.
Kemmerer Village’s 2011 Implementation Plan also provides for regular recognition and appreciation of Foster Parents as a professional on the child welfare team. The agency holds several events throughout the year (picnics, parties) to celebrate the dedication and commitment of its Foster Parents. Foster Parents receive monetary awards and keepsakes in recognition of every five years of service during an annual awards ceremony.
Seguin’s plan is such a success because it is developed on the premise that it is a living, breathing document designed to assist and guide foster parents at Seguin. The plan affords foster parents the opportunity to mold and shape the plan to meet their own needs. Seguin dedicates a great deal of time to the development of the implementation plan each year, assuring that foster parents are very involved in the writing process and have a voice in the plan. The writing process is a Team effort facilitated by teammates. This is just one of the many ways Seguin treat foster parents with the dignity and respect they so deserve .
Seguin provides a great deal of support to foster parents. They are never alone in a crisis, as it is a requirement for staff to be available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week; thereby providing contact with the agency for support. Foster parents are provided a list containing the cell phone and pager numbers of all staff associated with the child’s case. Seguin staff is available to help foster parents with their day-to-day concerns in addition to sitting with them through the wee hours of night, as Seguin’s foster children experience a great number of medical and psychiatric hospitalizations. However, foster parent never have to go it alone because members of the Nursing or Behavior teams are often there to accompany them through the emergency room process.
Another highlight of Seguin’s foster care program is the great training that is provided to foster parents. Training is significant because it provides foster parents with the skills necessary to care for children with developmental disabilities who also have severe medical or mental health needs. Seguin’s core training is provided in a group setting. Each department (Licensing, Case Management, Therapy, Behavior, Nursing and Respite) provides initial and on-going training to foster parents. Foster parents are also provided one-on-one training that is specific to the child placed in their care. Seguin’s well-trained and committed foster parents have contributed to Seguin’s ability to maintain a very low disruption rate, especially considering the difficult population it serves.