Forever Homes: The Evolution of Permanency at SOS Illinois
For over 30 years, SOS Illinois has intentionally focused on uniting brothers and sisters together in foster care. Our Village model of care has successfully done this by providing a stable home in a supportive community envrionment.
The pillars of our model – a full-time, professional Foster Parent who lives together with sibilings in a single-family home, surrounded by an intentional community of support – have remained steadfast. Yet, the backdrop of the child welfare system has changed a great deal. As the idea of permanancy has evolved, so too has the notion of what it means to help a child in care find a “forever home.”
What Is Permanency?
Permanency is defined as having positive, healthy, nurturing relationships with adults who provide emotional, financial, moral, educational, and other kinds of support as youth mature into adults. In simple terms, permanency means family.
Permanency At SOS Illinois: At Last, A Place To Call Home (Our 1st Tagline)
When SOS Illinois opened its doors at the Lockport Village, over three decades ago, our organization was tauted as the child welfare agency where brothers and sisters were finally reunited as a family. This distinction was unique amid the child welfare landscape of the early 1990s. Children who entered foster care often were separated from their sibilings; and many times, each child experienced multiple placements, changing homes frequently, two to three times within one school year. Older siblings were often separated into group homes, which made it less likely siblings would live together while in foster care.
The unreliabilty of an environment such as that for an already fragile life became detrimental to success in school, future self-reliance, as well as any sense of belonging to family and community. This brokeness was juxtaposed with the stabilty of our Lockport Village that had homes headed by full-time Foster Parents surrounded by a community of support. Our homes became the center of sibling groups’ lives, where they, as families, lived and grew together until each sibling aged out of the foster care system. Even after emancipating from the system, children felt a strong connection to our Foster Parents and Village.
Additionally, early on in the organization’s history, we saw a number of our original Foster Parents, two of whom still work with us today, adopt the sibling groups in their care. They raised their children as a family; and the children lived and grew at our Village. SOS Illinois was their forever home. This is similar to the way the SOS Children’s Village model functions in Europe and other parts of the world.
When SOS Illinois first opened, permanancy in many ways was equated to stability; and when a sibling group was placed at SOS Illinois, it was considered a permanent placement. They could breathe a sigh of relief and feel that they had at last, a place to call home.
Permanency Evolving At Our Villages: Every Child Deserves A Home (Current Tagline)
The permenancy goals for children in foster care in the U.S. in the late 1990s began to shift significantly with the signing of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. This legislation was put in place to ensure children did not linger in foster care. The focus for national and state child welfare agencies was to ensure children had a permanent placement outside of the foster care system.
Non-profit child welfare organization’s like SOS Children’s Villages Illinois had to evolve. Our Villages adapted from being a child’s actual “forever home” to being the source of healing, comfort, as well as the link to finding a permanent, loving home in the community whether through adoptions, kinship placements, or reunification.
A few years after opening the Chicago Village in 2006, this shift had an even more noticable effect on the organization. The Village changed from being a physical place instead to a mindset. As the number of Villages grew, so did our programmatic scope in caring for children living both on the Village and in the community.
Even though children weren’t calling our Villages their home forever, they still were calling it home while they were there. We began our successive 100% high school graduation rate, and our homes became places where children could heal, rebuild trust, and reignite hope, before moving on to their forever home. Additionally, we became the first call from DCFS for large sibiling groups. This meant that brothers and sisters were now coming to us together, so instead of reuniting sibilngs, we were ensuring they remained united. Strengthening families became the key to children being connected to the world around them.
As permanency evolved, what remained constant was children in foster care still needed a space that would provide the same safety and stability, for however long they were in out-of-home care. SOS Illinois did this and continues to provide this because we believe that every child deserves a home . . . even if that home isn’t at our Villages.
The Future of Permanency At SOS Illinois
No matter the definition of permanency, it is clear that as long as there is a need for foster care, the best way to serve a child in out-of-home care is to surround the entire family with support. We do this with our preventative services at Casa Tepeyac, but also see the benefits when our birth parents are supported while their children are in foster care.
Considering that poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are some of the main contributing factors to children being placed in foster care. These are circumstances into which children are born and often set the course for the rest of their lives. We believe the SOS Illinois difference can make a difference in a child’s life. With the support of our board members, corporate partners, donors, volunteers, staff and more, we offer children a new pathway to a cycle of opportunity.
Again, foster care is only a temporary place for children. As permanency continues to change for children in out-of-home care, fundamental to success is providing support, compassion, and strength to both the children and their biological families. SOS Illinois is committed to making lasting change to help build the future of foster care.
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Consider making a contribution to ensuring the programs and services at SOS Illinois continue to strengthen families and transform lives for years to come as well. Click here to donate today. Remember, change is in our hands.