As Illinois continues to navigate the state of the current health crisis, and as our nation works to heal the damages of racism, SOS Illinois continues to assess our changing course of action. Despite the many unknown factors still facing us, as a nonprofit serving communities hit hardest by current events, there is much assurance in the belief that we must first and foremost act upon the goodness that is ours. We will continue to heal, teach, and strengthen children, as well as guide them to move beyond fears and uncertainty. By leading each child to take the much-needed steps, we show them they can trust in the power of the human spirit and in authentic, unconditional, and powerful love. Out of such love for others, we will be implementing new protocols on our journey to provide more services in each of our Villages. During the next few months, we will have a strategic focus on safety, education, behavioral health, and diversity & inclusion for our Villages.
Addressing Safety at SOS Illinois
Gov. Pritzker signed an Executive Order called – Restoring Illinois – Protecting Our Communities – to safely and conscientiously resume activities that were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While programming and services at SOS Illinois were deemed essential and work continued throughout the “stay at home” order, administrative offices were closed with staff access to offices on a need-only basis.
As we reopen administrative sites, we are taking precautionary measures by putting into place additional protocols. These actions will help us ensure good sanitation practices, social distancing, protective face coverings, and self-monitoring are in place. We are adding these steps in order to maximize the health and well-being of our children and families, Foster Parents and staff, as well as birth parents and visitors.
Each site will have limitations as to the number of staff that can be present at any given time. This applies to high traffic areas, as well as individual offices and cubicle areas. Furthermore, these protocols will extend into our homes, where Foster Parents have diligently and mindfully followed all social distancing precautions while providing ongoing support for the children in their care. The extra measures are meant to provide a standardized response to ensure all homes are protected as staff members and birth parents resume in-home visits.
Assessing Educational Needs at SOS Illinois
During the special circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, having accessible, educational resources for Foster Parents and children was and continues to be vital. As Foster Parents took on the additional roles of teachers due to online learning in the spring, it quickly became clear that certain factors, such as the age of the children and whether they could be self-directed, access to a decent computer or device, as well as having good internet were of paramount concern.
Across the nation, parents shared struggles with the new notion of e-learning, and continue to do so as the new academic year begins. Due to the suddenness with which states shut down, very few could adequately prepare for these circumstances, including our teachers and schools. Our Foster Parents, like so many other parents, dug in and did all they could to keep children on task and progressing through assignments. We’ve been fortunate to receive a donation of Chromebooks for each home to make e-learning more accessible. Additionally, we have equipped homes with higher speed internet and will address ongoing concerns. As the semester begins, we will continue to assess the types of support SOS Illinois can provide to Foster Parents as it relates to in-home schooling, supporting diverse learning, and more.
During the summer, we were extremely fortunate to have had this process started by Win Biernacki, a longtime SOS Illinois supporter and wife of SOS Illinois Board Member and Former Board President, Don Biernacki, who graciously offered video segments for Foster Parents in order to answer their questions on virtual learning, at-home education, and supporting our children’s academic needs during this health crisis. We built d upon this and hired a consultant, who focused on writing and implementing an educational plan that will support every age and level of learning at our Villages should e-learning continue. Additionally, we will be onboarding a new educational team that will support our children and staff so that they are able to truly thrive in this remote schooling environment. Look forward to us sharing an update on how our children and families ar
Look forward to us sharing an update on how our children and families are adjusting to a new semester of at home learning later this fall.
Providing Support for Behavioral Health
The level of uncertainty experienced by all of us was challenging and in many ways trauma, which is all too often part of what occurs for children entering the foster care system. Yet, uncertainty, fear, and brokenness can be a source of hope. On weekly calls between senior leadership and Foster Parents at each site, our discussions quickly moved beyond fear to our collective notion of hope in each other. We trusted that despite having to remain physically apart (out of love for others), we were united and most capable of conquering fears to reestablish the certitude of our hope in each other to create a better tomorrow.
From this experience we have come to understand that just as important as our safety and education are, so too is our mental health as well as that of the children in our care. We will be working with our parents and staff to take the next steps to dialogue with children in order to let them know that the brokenness in our society will not define us, but motivate us to be who we really are – a people on a common journey towards the good.
Already, staff at SOS Illinois have established outlets for different age groups in order to address some of these behavioral health needs. Group sessions via Zoom are taking place, and resources are being provided to help Foster Parents be able to begin conversations that deal with larger, complex issues related to events taking place in our city and around our country.
Chief Operating Officer, Delphine Rankin, shared this reflection in a recent team meeting that summarizes the efforts of the Village. “I am proud and grateful we have been able to react to so many challenges and faced incredible change without hesitation as a result of the health crisis. No one blamed anyone, and no one faltered. Our Villages pulled together, and with a team effort rallied through this unprecedented time.” Using that same approach, we will now face the next challenges, knowing that at the core of all things, the safety, well-being of the children in our care is of the utmost importance.
Embracing Diversity and Inclusion on our Villages
As our Villages and services continue to care for children and families of diverse racial and ethics backgrounds, SOS Illinois is making the commitment to do more to provide diversity and inclusion training, workshops, and education for our Foster Parents and staff. As Chicago continues to be a primary focal point in the fight to eradicate racism – especially racism that affects Black children and adults – we recognize that it is important now more than ever to unify as a force aligned with anti-racism efforts in our city and beyond.
In response to this growing need, SOS Illinois had gathered a specialized Racial Justice Committee. The goal of this committee, spearheaded by an outside consultant, is to “advance the core mission of SOS Children’s Villages Illinois by critically assessing and creating strategies with a focus on innovative methods to create on-going plans for continued areas for education, training, and advocacy in areas of promoting equality, addressing racism and bias, and advocating for social justice reforms both within the organization and surrounding communities.” This committee, made up of staff and Foster Parents, will continue to work together over the next year on identifying the areas of greatest need without our organization and surrounding communities to address racial bias an intolerance, as well as to create opportunities for culture-sharing and respectful conversation.
We’re looking forward to sharing the ways this new committee will help strengthen our community through a four-part blog series premiering on our blog in September.
Continuing to Move Forward
Like other communities around us, we understand that our collective future comes with some uncertainty. However at SOS Illinois, we are taking an active approach at navigating our next steps with care, tact, and compassion for one another. You can stay updated on each moment by subscribing to our e-newsletter and can support our efforts to keep our children and families safe by making an online gift today.