On May 27th, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law SB 3853 which provides greater supports and resources to families at risk of entering the child welfare system. We are grateful for the partnership of sponsors Senator Julie Morrison and Representative Terra Costa Howard on SB 3853, now Public Act 102-1029, to create a pilot program for families in the Extended Family Support Program (EFSP) through the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

As part of Children’s Home & Aid’s work to move service delivery upstream towards prevention, the Ahlquist Center for Policy, Practice, & Innovation developed SB 3853. This legislative victory is a direct result of the collaboration between our child welfare Intact program leadership and staff and the Ahlquist Center to identify a programmatic challenge, craft legislation, and work with sponsors in the legislature to make change for children and families in Illinois.  The bill creates a pilot program for families in EFSP to have additional access to supportive resources. In addition to offering foster care and Intact services throughout the state, Children’s Home & Aid is one of a handful of providers for EFSP. We provide services in Cook, Madison, St. Clair, Bond, Clinton, Washington, Monroe, and Randolph Counties. In total, we can serve up to 50 caregivers and 90 children through the program currently.

EFSP is a statewide program assisting caregivers who are supporting their relative’s children without formal DCFS involvement. The program is designed to prevent entrance into foster care and provide support with the guardianship process. The program aligns with our and the DCFS’s shared vision to provide more preventative services to children and families. Sarah Saran at Children’s Home & Aid stated “These families do not need monitoring or to be involved in the formal child welfare system, but they do need support during this transition into guardianship. The extra supports in this pilot program can strengthen the stability of the new family unit and ensure their success in keeping their relative’s children out of foster care.”

To determine the best approach to supporting caregivers through EFSP and keeping families together, this Public Act 102-1029 provides extra resources to families in the program. These resources include home visiting services, parent mentors, and wraparound case management. Home visiting provides education about child development and increases attachment between the child and their caregiver. Parent mentors will be an invaluable guide in navigating new parenting skills and the difficulties of long-term guardianship. And finally, wraparound case support ensures families are connected to necessary community resources for the duration of their time in the program.

This pilot and the implemented supports will be independently evaluated to inform future work in this area and any program expansion. As part of our goal to move service delivery upstream, we believe building additional infrastructure and supports into programs like EFSP that prevent children from entering foster care is a step towards strengthening families and providing children the opportunity to thrive. We look forward to seeing how this pilot program supports EFSP families in receiving access to much-needed services and determining the best approach to working with these families, and other families at risk of entering foster care, long-term.