Crisis Nursery Director Beth Burgener inside the facility's playroom

BLOOMINGTON CRISIS NURSERY HELPS DESPERATE PARENTS

The Children's Foundation Crisis Nursery, located on the Bloomington campus of the Children's Foundation, meets special needs in the community and serves as a frontline defense against child abuse.

"There are only a few crisis nurseries in Illinois and this is the only option of its kind in our area," Director Beth Burgener said about the nursery, which has served nearly 100 children since its October 1996 opening. "It's a huge role, this sort of short-term crisis nursery. We offer an early outlet for families before stress gets out of control."

The nursery is open 24 hours a day and is available to help parents facing a myriad of possible family emergencies, including having no place to leave young children while they work to resolve the crisis. The program is designed to intervene with parents who recognize their potential to abuse or neglect their children, to assist parents in developing long-term solutions to their problems and to provide children with safe, nurturing round-the-clock care.

"Most of our clients have nobody to turn to. They usually have no jobs, no friends and no babysitters. Grandma and grandpa work or live out of town." Burgener said. "They know they're losing it. They're embarrassed, and they don't know what to do."

"Staff work hard to put parents at ease," Burgener explained. Whether the trouble involves a medical emergency, domestic violence or a new mom who hasn't slept in days, parents in McLean and its surrounding counties are welcome to leave their children at the nursery. She added that the voluntary nature of their service is especially attractive to potential users who might fear the intervention of traditional child welfare services.

"(Clients often) have a little bit of a guilty feeling of 'Wow, I shouldn't need help,' " Burgener said. "But a willingness to seek resources is a real strength in parenting."

Most children stay less than 72 hours. However, some children may remain for longer periods -- up to 30 days during a 12-month period. Burgener also noted that Crisis Nursery services extend far beyond short-term child care. "We begin with immediate crisis problem-solving, link families with resources, and then go to follow-up." Usually staff interview troubled parents, then help them find human service programs that can meet their individual needs. The Crisis Nursery also provides crisis counseling, child health and development screening, parenting classes and links with community service providers for aftercare services, such as long-term day care arrangements. Nursery outreach workers also make follow-up contacts with parents to determine how the family is functioning and whether they need help in linking with referral sources.

The Department of Children and Family Services played roles in both the creation and funding of the Crisis Nursery. Local child protection investigators were among the early supporters of its creation. Frustrated by a lack of available emergency placement options, which sometimes resulted in young children waiting hours in a DCFS office, DCFS workers eagerly supported the Children's Foundation community needs study for crisis nursery services. The United Way, LAN #23 and other community-based groups also supported the Crisis Nursery.

In August 1996 the Children's Foundation was awarded a three-year federal Child Abuse grant administered by DCFS. Additional funding sources include The United Way, a fee-for-service contract with DCFS, and two Family Centered Services grants administered by LAN #23.

"The LAN has been very supportive," Burgener said of the group's dual role of providing funds and collaborating to provide services. "As we got our outreach piece together, they were working with us on wraparound plans and helping us with the outreach groundwork."

The Crisis Nursery has served 63 children since its opening -- a faster pace than initially expected for its first year of operation. Publicity, brochures, community group presentations and networking with human service providers have helped the nursery reach its target audience. Burgener noted that "domestic violence issues are the most common issues."

"Parents know it's a safe place," Burgener said. "Their kids can play with toys, get a good meal and a place to sleep. And we can link families to support groups that can help them."