Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois (LCFS) is privileged to oversee the care of approximately 1500 children and youth a year in partnership with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). These are “our” children, and we want the same success and joy out of life for them as we do for our own children.

Two recent changes have occurred that are consistent with this thinking. They are the passing and signing into law by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner of HB 5665 (related to “normalcy” for youth in care) and the executive proclamation to refer to DCFS-covered children as “youth in care” as opposed to the legal term of “wards.”

You can read more about these important actions here.

– LCFS President & COO Mike Bertrand

August represents the end of summer “vacation” for children and youth as they return to school. I believe it is very important to reflect upon the role of education in our society within the context of the children and youth that we serve. Good educational opportunities which educate, build self-esteem, develop marketable skills and incorporate key societal values are in reality one of the few pathways for upward mobility and escape from poverty.

In recent years, as part of our sustainable-funding initiative, I often have opportunity to speak of my vision for the agency. For me, the bottom line is always helping the people we serve develop to their potential, which is often achieved by providing educational opportunities commensurate with abilities, as well as removing social barriers, including injustices.

When I began my social work career as a public-assistance worker for the Iowa Department of Social Welfare, the book, “Common Human Needs,” by Charlotte Towle of the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, was required reading. It is as relevant today as it was then. She wrote of achieving our potential and the important role of education and of the implications for the individual as well as society when educational opportunities are not available and potential is not developed. First, there is a loss to society of the richer contribution that might have been made; second, the loss to the individual for a more productive and satisfying life and third; the frustrations that can occur when aspirations are not met, sometimes leading to embitterment or other actions that are costly to society.

As important as it is, returning to school is more than new clothes and backpacks. It is removing barriers; it is providing stability; it is developing relationships, which foster growth and promote well being; and it is helping children and youth achieve their potential. As a child-welfare agency, that is our calling and what our work is all about!

– Gene Svebakken, LCFS Chief Executive Officer

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

In the Advent season, it seems appropriate as a faith-based social ministry organization to reflect upon the theological principles that undergird the values we uphold as a value-driven organization.

Over the years, I have condensed these teachings into three main areas:

1. Creation. When God created the heavens and earth, He created all things good; created humankind in His own image; bound Himself to human beings as the crown of His creation and called upon us “to care for creation,” which includes caring for all people. It is because we are created in the image of God that all people have dignity and worth and are also accepted unconditionally.

2. The Prophets of the Hebrew Old Testament calling for social justice and mercy and advocating on behalf of people to the kings (government). They also envisioned a future as set forth in Isaiah 65.

3. The life and teachings of Jesus who, as God incarnate, through His miracles and parables demonstrates his love and compassion, teaches us a model for a godly life and through the work of the Holy Spirit equips and comforts us. It is because of God’s love through the life and teachings of Jesus that we respond to His love by loving and serving others.

Advent is a time in which we prepare for the birth of Jesus, of God coming to live among us. I pray that your Advent and Christmas season will be one of true joy and blessings and that we will be equipped to be Christ-like as we continue to model His love.

– Gene Svebakken, MSW, ACSW, LCFS CEO

Since the German Evangelical-Lutheran Orphan Home Association of Northern Illinois was established in Addison in 1873, there has been a strong commitment on the part of LCFS to serve as an extension of the social ministry of congregations.

For more than 100 years, the relationship with congregations was relatively informal, with congregations having a role in the selection of members of the LCFS board of directors, but maintaining a strong sense of “ownership” over the agency. For many congregations, LCFS was their social-ministry organization, committed to serving children and families.

LCFS’ relationship to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod changed in the late 1970s, becoming more formalized and structured. That has again changed. However, we remain a Lutheran social-ministry organization committed to be a means by which Lutheran congregations and individuals and individuals of other faiths, can express their social-ministry aspirations to be the presence of God in this broken world and to make their faith active in love.
You’ll find stories throughout this website that spotlight this social ministry in action.