Children who come into foster care are more likely than their peers to be exposed to traumatic events. Dealing with adversity such as poverty, substance abuse, job loss, mental illness, homelessness, incarceration, safety issues, or neglect can lead to toxic stress, which can take a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health.
Several Key Factors Exacerbate Mental Health Risks
Life in traditional foster care can be unpredictable and unstable. While removing children from unsafe environments is the best option, it can initially add to a child’s insecurities. The trauma of leaving family and a familiar environment can paralyze children with fear and lead to depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
- Frequent Relocation
On average, a child in traditional foster care is moved three times throughout placement in out-of-home care. Some children are relocated more than ten times. Frequent moves, often with short notice, make it extremely difficult for children to feel stable and secure. Frequent moves from one foster location to another may mean changing schools and removing them from friends, limiting their ability to build long-term relationships.
The SOS Children’s Villages Illinois unique model of care provides children in foster care with stability. They live in single-family homes that can accommodate up to six children and are raised by a full-time, professionally trained Foster Parent. It creates a secure living situation eliminating constant relocation, so children can remain in their schools and among their friends.
- Sibling Separation
Traditional foster care models frequently separate siblings because single families are unable to accommodate more than one or two children. While there’s a lack of actual data regarding siblings in foster care, estimates are that more than half of the children in foster care also have one or more siblings in care.
The fear of losing siblings can lead to feelings of insecurity, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Research has shown that keeping siblings together in foster care when possible has multiple benefits. Research also has shown that sibling connections result in diminished feelings of loneliness, fewer behavioral problems, and higher self-worth, all of which contribute to better mental health.
Keeping siblings together is one of the ways the SOS Illinois model of care differs from traditional models. Our organization is oftentimes the first call made when large sibling groups enter out-of-home care. Our largest sibling group that we care for is twelve siblings. Although all siblings may not reside under one roof, living on the same Village allows brothers and sisters the opportunity to play together, do homework together, enjoy dinner together. They can continue developing as a family while in out-of-home, creating stronger sibling bonds that will last a lifetime.
- Access to Professional Help
Professional help and early interventions are critical because mental health conditions often get worse without treatment. Even infants and toddlers can experience mental illness. One misconception is that young children don’t develop mental health problems and are immune to the effects of early adversity and trauma because they are inherently resilient and ‘grow out of‘ behavioral issues and emotional difficulties.
Caseworkers and therapists are responsible for many children in a traditional foster care system, spread out geographically in many different areas. They are frequently responsible for very large caseloads, which adds to the difficulty of providing needed services to every child assigned to them.
At SOS Illinois, caseworkers and therapists are on-site and exclusively serve its Villages and former children in SOS Illinois’ care. That means that every child living in an SOS Illinois Village has built-in access to a caseworker or therapist whenever it’s needed. SOS Illinois caseworkers and therapists are equipped with the tools to help with difficult situations that enable them to provide timely crisis intervention when and if it’s needed. This means that Foster Parents have additional support and are surrounded with a care team for each child.
- A “Forever Home”
SOS Children’s Villages Illinois is committed to finding a forever home for children in foster care, whether it is an individual or a group of siblings. Our goal is to find this permanency through reunification with a biological parent, family member, or adoption. Permanency doesn’t just mean placement, either. It also means helping to establish and maintain meaningful connections with family, friends, and the community for the youth leaving our care.
When children can return to their home, the process requires intensive, family-centered services that support a stable and safe home environment. SOS Illinois focuses on tailoring these services to each family’s circumstances by addressing the issues that required the child to be placed into foster care.
In addition to providing safe, stable, loving homes, we marshal all the resources needed to help children heal and achieve their permanency goals. Whether brothers and sisters live in our Villages or move to their “forever homes,” SOS Illinois is there for every milestone.
Making Mental Health a Priority
The innovative SOS Children’s Villages Illinois model focuses on providing a nurturing, safe, and stable home in a community environment. As a result, our unique model offers support and systems that address many circumstances that contribute to mental health issues for children in foster care.
Each child that enters our Villages has a dedicated support system from the very start. From our full-time Foster Parents to our on-site clinicians, therapists, mentors, case managers, support staff and more, the youth in our care are able to find safety and security in knowing they’re surrounded by a community that only wants the best for them.
Our children are offered a real chance at renewing their sense of trust and hope. They’re also able to heal from the traumas of their past while gaining footing on steady ground in an effort to provide them the confidence, skills and resources they need in order to become responsible and caring adults.
Additionally, each year SOS Illinois participates in Mental Illness Awareness Week to ensure we are doing our part to end the stigma around mental illness. This year, we also will participate in Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to raise additional awareness because mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background.
Supporting Opportunities for Healing and Longevity
Please consider making an online gift so we can continue to provide this vital service. Your gift can change the future of many children currently in Illinois foster care.