In June 2017, Children’s Home & Aid began the Foster Parent Mentoring program to increase the support available to foster parents with a goal of improving the quality of foster parenting. Each year, Children’s Home & Aid provides foster care services to more than 1,100 children in Illinois. Foster Parent Mentoring is a unique program designed specifically by Children’s Home & Aid with the input of foster parents to provide added support to new foster parents.
The initiative grew out of the agency’s involvement in the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI) of the Youth Law Center. In 2015, Children’s Home & Aid was the first agency in Illinois to implement QPI, a new approach to the foster care system that treats everyone involved—from biological parents to judges to youth—as allies rather adversaries. Since it was piloted in Florida in 2008, over 75 organizations in 10 states have adopted the QPI approach. The major successes of QPI in these states include fewer sibling separations and unplanned placement changes, reduced use of more restrictive settings like group care, and increased reunifications with biological families.
The Foster Parent Mentoring program first launched at Children’s Home & Aid in Rockford in 2017 and has since expanded across the state to metropolitan Chicago, central and southern Illinois. In its first year, over 100 foster parents have signed up in Rockford as mentors, offering targeted support and training to foster families.
Ashley Akerman, Children’s Home & Aid’s first Statewide Foster Parent Support Specialist, helped pilot the program. Ashley now oversees the mentors and says, “The best thing we can do for our kids is to make sure the homes we’re putting them in are equipped and ready to care for them. Each of our Foster Parent Mentors come with a unique set of experiences and knowledge, and they use their background to support and train new foster parents.”
Foster parent mentors are active in recruiting new foster families, stressing the role of foster parents in building strong relationships with a child’s biological family to work together to meet the children’s needs. Mentors can offer respite to foster families struggling to meet the needs of children with mental health or severe emotional challenges. All Foster Parent Mentors are trained to provide resources and information to foster parents on the impact of trauma on a child’s behavior and development.
“Foster Parent Mentoring is based around the idea that when foster care doesn’t work, the problem is not the child, but rather foster parents haven’t been fully prepared to care for children dealing with trauma. It’s our duty to develop homes where children are safe, secure and loved, and we believe that given the right support and resources, every foster parent can be successful,” says Melissa Ludington, Vice President of Child Welfare Services at Children’s Home & Aid.
New foster parents are paired with a mentor from the moment they’re licensed and stay in contact with them throughout their first year of foster parenting. Mentors meet with foster parents on a monthly basis and are available via phone and email to provide support as needed.
As the program is rolled out statewide, the agency is evaluating the Foster Parent Mentoring program’s impact on retaining foster parents and reducing placement changes. Interested in becoming a foster parent? Visit childrenshomeandaid.org/lovinghomes/ to learn more.