Last month in our state capital, hundreds of people representing social-service agencies demonstrated to draw attention to the devastating state of our community-based non-governmental social-service agencies. One impact of the political gridlock is the sad news regarding Lutheran Social Services of Illinois program closures and staff reductions. Time will not permit a litany of the unconscionable funding cuts and the deterioration of our social-service safety net, which now has many holes.
But despite the challenging environment, I am pleased to say we continue to take on a leadership role in nurturing and protecting children, strengthening families and transforming communities.
In an era in which the validity and effectiveness of residential care and treatment as we’ve known it in our premiere Lutherbrook program is being challenged, we’re pleased we’ve been able to serve 65 children through Lutherbrook Child and Adolescent Center. Their average length of stay has been reduced to 1 year, 7 months versus 2 years, 5 months, five years ago. We now strategically see residential care and treatment at Lutherbrook as a short-term experience to facilitate and promote community living. And through the efforts of our domestic and international adoption programs, more than 240 children were placed in permanent homes.
One of our practice values is the importance of children living with their natural parents if at all possible. Placement of kids apart from their natural families is traumatic for the children and families. We are pleased to report in the past year that 209 of the 1,480 children we served in our foster-care program have been able to return to a safe and nurturing environment with their biological families.
Another one of our key values is innovation. Despite the current environment in Illinois, we are able to continue to develop innovative programs just like we did with Intact Family Recovery, which allows children to safely stay in the care of their parents while the family receives substance abuse and other treatments, and the Regenerations program, which we developed nearly 10 years ago and serves youth who are in DCFS and involved with the juvenile justice system.
This past year we were able to develop an innovative pilot program with the University of Illinois-Chicago, the Cook County Juvenile Courts, DCFS and the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall to address the issue of youth languishing in Cook County’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Though our efforts, we’ve already been able to return 38 children to community living.
Chicago Uptown Ministry continues its innovative spirit as we develop new programs to provide services to a significant number of homeless people and those dealing with mental-health issues. Included are hospitality and expressive-arts programs.
As a voluntary social-services agency rooted in child-welfare services with an annual budget of more than 35-million-dollars, we are committed to a diversified-funding base, which means we must increasingly look to individual donors, Lutheran congregations and other stakeholders for support.
I’m excited about the achievements of our sustainable-funding initiative. Currently we have 48 members of our Circle of Hope, which is LCFS’ multi-year giving society and includes supporters who have pledged $1,000 or more per year for a minimum of five years. For this support we are most grateful.
As we embark on a new strategic-planning experience, we’re assessing our vision of the future based on the values of Lutheran social ministry. We seek to be an agency in which people of faith can translate their love and compassion into action on behalf of others. The words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God,” are still our guiding star.
The world-famous anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote many years ago that we can judge a society by how it cares for its children and aged. Jesus said, “Whosoever has done it unto the least of these has done it unto me.”
Our challenge as a society and a Lutheran social-ministry agency is to live up to those aspirations and expectations.
– Gene Svebakken, ASCW, MSW
LCFS Chief Executive Officer