On May 17, 2013 the Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council (Council) sponsored its annual awards and recognition ceremony for three foster care agencies whose 2013 Foster Parent Law implementation plans excel in the category of “dignity and respect.”
Recognizing that foster parents are an essential part of and fulfill an integral role on the child welfare team, in 1995, 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 108 points to be accepted by the Council. The Council recognizes the top three implementation plans submitted by agencies//DCFS regions on an annual basis.
The three foster care agencies selected by the Council for recognition this year submitted the following executive summaries describing the highlights of their 2013 implementation plans:
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI)
Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’2013 Foster Parent Implementation Plan sets forth LSSI’s vision for a continued partnership with foster parents. Foster parents are seen as integral to LSSI’s ability to provide quality services to children in need. Without foster parents, LSSI would be unable to fulfill its mission of bringing “healing, wholeness and justice” to children and families in Illinois.
A primary theme of LSSI’s 2013 Foster Parent Implementation Plan is fostering respectful interaction with foster parents at all times. This is communicated in a variety of ways, including prompt return of messages, inclusion of foster parents in meetings and staffings pertaining to their foster child, and consideration of the foster parents’ schedule when arranging meetings, training events and visits. LSSI’s plan also focuses on the importance of respect when a problem arises that needs resolution. Regardless of the nature of the problem, respectful interaction, communication, and consideration of the foster parents’ viewpoint is paramount when working together toward a solution.
LSSI also believes that a key to treating foster parents with dignity and respect is to include them as members of the professional team – this means including foster parents in initiatives that will help them do their jobs as substitute caregivers with greater skill and with the latest knowledge. To this end, LSSI’s 2013 Foster Parent Implementation Plan details LSSI’s ongoing roll-out of the National Child Trauma Stress Network (NCTSN) training for caregivers entitled “Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma.” This training has been very well-received by LSSI foster parents, who report finding the training extremely helpful to their work, providing insight into the reasons behind a child’s behavior and guiding interventions that will help children experience a greater sense of safety and security.
LSSI is also committed to working with foster parents to ensure that every child served by the agency has a Lifebook. Lifebook training helps foster parents assist children in putting their life stories together, maintaining or discovering family connections, and understanding why they are in foster care. Foster parents report that when they do Lifebooks with a child, their relationship is strengthened, they learn more about the child’s relationship to his/her family, and they understand more about what the child is thinking and feeling.
Finally, in preparing this year’s Foster Parent Implementation Plan, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois worked hard to be respectful of foster parents who took the time to provide comments and feedback for this year’s plan. Foster parents who provided feedback via e-mail received a personalized response so that they would know how their comment was being included in the final plan.
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 to help children thrive and families flourish through innovative, community-based programs. Our 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, respectfully 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. Our foster parents have also developed new ideas for agency events such as our Family Fall Festival, an activity to bring families together in a relaxed setting for mutual support and bonding. We have activities throughout the year to celebrate foster families such as our Foster Parent Appreciation Dinner and our Annual Holiday Party. These events allow families to be taken care of by agency staff since they give so much of themselves to children each and every day.
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.
Kemmerer Village prides itself on the longevity of our licensed foster parents, whose experience exceeds 25 years. These veteran foster parents are often utilized for respite care and co-training as necessary. Kemmerer Village also ensures that foster parents are always included in staffings, transition meetings, and holiday gatherings and also remain up to date about the court cases. In this way, Kemmerer Village believes it is essential that our foster parents are included as part of our team in every way possible. Kemmerer Village strives to meet the needs of our foster parents, as well as maintaining compliance with DCFS, as we believe that working together will ensure that the best interests of the children we serve remain our upmost concern.