IL, JULY 30, 1998 -- DCFS Foster Parent Bertha Gunter has to remind
her three foster children of doctor’s appointments, appointments
with caseworkers, and appointments at the Juvenile Court. But when it
comes to a unique program run by the Illinois Department of Children
and Family Services, no reminder seems to be needed.
"I never have to remind them when we have a class. They just say
"Let’s go,’" laughed Bertha Gunter, whose foster
children attend a weekly art class that’s part of DCFS’ Pathways
to Development program.
of foster children are gathering today in the Children’s Garden
of the Chicago Botanic Garden to construct wind socks that will join
life-size scarecrows, clay wind chimes and other art projects designed
to complement their morning gardening projects at the Children’s
they’re out all day, doing projects," added Gunter. "It
helps to de-stress my household. It gives them skills, and it gives
them a sense of control over their lives."
art class -- taught by Suellen Rocca, director of Arts Excel and her
staff, and supported for the fourth year by the Chicago Botanic Garden
-- is part of Pathways to Development, a year-round, multi-stage program
designed to encourage children in the state’s child welfare system
to develop skills and explore possibilities they may have considered
feel deeply about this program," said Rocca, a well-known Chicago
artist who has conducted art classes for Pathways to Development since
1995. "They are not simply six-week classes. Children stay in
the Pathways program for years, taking classes and attending performances.
There’s a kind of group interaction that goes on when children
are together that long."
exposure to arts and cultural events is part of what makes Pathways
special, said Sidney Goldberg, administrator of the program and a
foster children haven’t had opportunities to develop their interests,
talents and abilities," added Goldberg, who founded Pathways
in 1995. "Most of the time, child welfare has focused on problems
in a child’s life and how to fix them. Pathways takes a different
approach. It focuses on meeting the normal developmental needs that
all children have. And we’ve learned that the arts serve as a
great avenue for teaching children that they are capable of achieving
much more than they ever thought possible. They will then be in a
position to devleop meaning and direction in their lives."
300 foster children attend classes, performances and exhibitions supported
by Pathways to Development throughout the year. As of this fall, Goldberg
hopes the program will reach 1,000 of Cook County’s estimated
35,000 children living in foster homes and other kinds of substitute
care. Foster parents are also encouraged to take part. Three-fourths
of Illinois’ foster children live in Cook County.
the Chicago Botanical Garden has been among Pathway’s regular
collaborators since the program’s inception, most Pathway activities
are offered on Chicago’s South Side, near where many of the county’s
foster children live.
important," said Gunter, whose foster children often walk to
classes from their home. "It makes the job of parenting easier,
and I don’t have to wonder what they are doing."
explained that the Pathways to Development program is unique in the
nation, in part, because it systematically introduces each foster
child to a variety of visual, musical and performance arts, then allows
the child to choose which of the arts they find most interesting to
pursue. Surveys have turned up no other program of its kind in the
nation. The children’s involvement in the program may extend
for years, with volunteer mentors developing long-term relationships
with individual children, encouraging them to delve deeper into new
areas of interest.
also includes opportunities for children to perform and exhibit their
art work. A permanent exhibition of the children’s work is on
display at DCFS’ headquarters, 100 West Randolph St., on the
6th floor. The Cook County Juvenile Court building will also exhibit
art work in the near future.
agreed, noting that her foster children can now point out different
periods of architecture, discuss the strong points of various art
mediums and recognize popular classical music pieces.
especially very proud of knowing classical music," said Gunter,
whose foster children have seen the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the
Harlem Boys Choir, and opera performances. "Once I noticed (12-year-old)
Jimmie lean over the balcony so he could get a better look at what
the pianist was doing. And even the younger children liked the music."
age 14, especially liked the video classes taught through the Pathways
program. "Working the camera was fun, and we learned how to edit
film, direct and produce a film."
age 8, said the best part of the program was planting seeds in the
Children’s Garden and tending to their growth, but also enjoyed
painting in Ms. Rocco’s art class.
involves more than just teaching arts," Goldberg added. "We’re
trying to give foster children an anchor to the world, a sense of
direction that will last a lifetime. And it’s exciting to see
the enthusiasm in the children’s eyes. This is a program that
goes beyond fixing what’s broken. It sees the child as a whole
person, filled with potential, and ready to learn about all the world
has to offer."
agreed, noting that even art classes teach more than skills of the
main thing students learn is how to solve problems in a visual way,"
Rocco explained. "A lot of people think about art as skill building,
but art is mostly about communication and problem-solving. And much
of the emphasis is really on creative problem solving. There are lots
of ways you can solve the same problem, and that lesson transfers
to other areas of life."
noted that Pathways to Development relies heavily on strong working
relationships with organizations, such as the Chicago Botanic Garden
and Arts Excel. The program also relies on contributions and voluntary
efforts from numerous local organizations. For example, he noted,
the Chicago Symphony last year donated more than 1,200 tickets to
its performances. Other organizations collaborating with Pathways
to Development include the Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, the Merit
Music Program and Ballet Chicago.
and individuals wishing to learn more about the Pathways to Development
Program and how they can help are encouraged to call Sidney Goldberg
learned so much and feel so good about myself," said Chanel.
"They’ve shown me how to do a lot of things I never would
have been interested in before. I can do a lot more than I thought
I could do."