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Foster Alumnus Dedicates Career to Foster Care Advocacy

“When we talk about improving outcomes for youth in foster care, it’s critical to make sure current foster youth and foster alumni have a seat at the table where decisions are being made. We need to approach system reform from the perspective of the young people who are meant to be benefitting from these programs,” James McIntyre shared.

James McIntyre spent 17 years in the foster care system before aging out of foster care at age 21. Since then, he has dedicated his career to advocacy and system reform. James currently serves as the Director of Community Outreach and Engagement for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County, and he served for five years as President of the Foster Care Alumni Association in Illinois. OHU was proud to present its President’s Award to James in 2020 in recognition of his unwavering dedication to bringing about true and lasting reform.

“I was physically abused as a child, and eventually I needed therapy and care at a high-level Residential home,” James said. “I made it out of the system and worked as hard as I could to improve my circumstances. For years I worked a full-time job while also working with the Foster Care Association of Illinois at nights and on weekends. I’ve only begun to see my efforts come to fruition in recent years and seeing that my sacrifices were worth it means everything.”

James believes social services providers have a duty “to walk hand-in-hand with foster youth, and make sure they feel like people, not commodities.” While James was living at One Hope United’s Residential home in Lake Villa, he saw Executive Directors and other members of OHU’s leadership team visiting campus regularly and developing positive relationships with youth there. He shared that this was the first time he saw leadership choosing to be actively involved in the lives of the children in their programs, from holiday visits to day-to-day activities. “We felt cared for – we didn’t feel like we were just a paycheck,” James said.

At 18, James was invited to join the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Youth Advisory Board. He said this experience motivated him to think more about his place in the world, and the places where he could make an impact. “Seeing agencies having honest conversations with young people and with their constituents was huge for me,” James shared.

Rather than viewing the challenges he’s faced as entirely negative experiences, James focuses on the knowledge he can use to improve systems for other foster youth. “Coming from the foster care system and the environments where I grew up, I know we can do better,” he said. “When children are placed in a bureaucratic system, their firsthand knowledge and lived experience should inform decisions about their care.”

Growing up in the foster care system, there were times when James did not feel like his perspective was valued, or that he could openly express who he was. “I always knew I was queer, but in certain situations I was forced by people in my life to remain in the closet, or to go back into the closet,” he said. James went on to say he was impressed by the work OHU has put into accepting and celebrating LGBTQ+ children, youth and families. “There is a lot of visual representation of LGBTQ+ staff and leaders here, which is crucial in making sure a young queer kid knows that where they’re going will be safe and affirming. And for a queer foster youth to see LGBTQ+ leaders like OHU’s President and CEO, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer, who are out, proud, and at the top of their field – that could make a dramatic difference in a young person’s life.”

James shared that the messages and lessons instilled in him by staff members at the Lake Villa campus have often played out in his life as an adult. “People like Glen Seymour told me I would look back and understand what they were talking about, and that’s really true,” James said. “The Residential team helped me gain strength and confidence in myself. They helped shape me into the advocate I am today.”

When asked how he feels people can make a positive impact for a youth in foster care, James shared that he sees many ways to get involved outside of becoming a foster parent. “You don’t have to be an attorney or a child welfare expert – anyone can make that positive impact just by being a caring, stable figure in a young person’s life,” James concluded. “One consistent adult can make all the difference.”

Creating an Affirming Home for Transgender Youth

When Owen* first arrived at One Hope United’s Centralia Residential home, he hadn’t yet come out as transgender. In the past, when he disclosed to therapists that he was trans, they didn’t believe him, and told Owen he must be feeling this way due to his history of trauma and physical abuse.

After Owen had been living at OHU’s Centralia home and working with his therapist, Stephanie, for about 45 days, he decided to share his identity with her. Stephanie responded with openness and compassion. Her first concern was making sure Owen had his needs met, and that he received gender-affirming care. She immediately went to work, obtaining things like gender-affirming clothes and a chest binder, and arranging for Owen to have the haircut he desired. Owen chose to come out more publicly, and staff and other youth at the Centralia program transitioned to using his chosen name.

Owen has since been reunified with his birth mother, and graduated high school in the spring of 2020. After a family therapy session with Stephanie and his mom, Owen complimented Stephanie, saying, “Other people have treated my mom so badly. You make her feel like a person. And you were the first therapist who accepted me for who I am.”

Jessica Perry, Director of Residential Clinical Services, said stories like Owen’s make her incredibly proud. “If Stephanie hadn’t reacted with acceptance, Owen may have shut down,” she said. “When a transgender youth first arrives at our program, they’re still asking the question, ‘Is this a safe place to be who I am?’ We strive to make sure they always feel comfortable, safe, and loved.”

Owen is one of many young people in the child and family welfare system seeking a home where he can live as his authentic self. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, on any given day, there are more than 100,000 youth living in group homes in the United States. Each of these young people arrives at a group home with a unique set of life experiences and care needs. One Hope United youth care workers help these young people address any challenges they are facing, understand and accept who they are, and work toward a happy and healthy future.

One Hope United’s exceptional standards of care haven’t just been noticed by our own staff. About five years ago, Jessica Perry and Melissa Webster, Executive Director of Residential Programs, took part in an all-provider meeting at the Illinois State Senate. During a Senate subcommittee meeting on human trafficking, they learned more about the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) efforts to improve services for transgender youth. Soon after, DCFS asked Melissa if One Hope United could serve as the point organization in standard-setting for transgender care in Residential group homes.

Since then, Melissa has never wavered in her conviction that her team could lead the way and help define what it means to provide excellent care for transgender youth. Jessica Perry has spearheaded these initiatives and works closely with DCFS leadership toward one goal: making sure both agencies are always doing what is best for their kids.

“Ensuring this philosophy is top of mind for all of our team members is important to Jessica and me,” Melissa shared. “We don’t use dead names or misgender youth. From daily interactions to responding to a crisis in the middle of the night, we provide training and coaching to make sure our staff are implementing these standards of care, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

Leading the way in caring for transgender youth is a multi-faceted undertaking. In practice, it means ongoing trainings for staff, gender-affirming healthcare, LGBTQIA+ youth support groups, and in some cases, hormone therapy. And in many instances, it means allowing youth the space they need to discover who they are.

“If a youth is exploring their gender identity, they may experiment with different pronouns, clothing, and ways of expressing themselves,” Jessica shared. “We let our kids take the lead. We never want young people to feel like we don’t believe them, or think that we don’t believe they know themselves and the identity they are developing and discovering.”

In certain cases, transgender youth in care are ready to begin hormone therapy. To meet youth’s medical needs, Jessica’s team works with a healthcare provider in the region. A transgender youth at the Centralia home received hormone therapy for a little over two years at this clinic. He is the first minor in Illinois DCFS residential care history to receive hormone therapy. “This young person’s nurse and gender clinic team taught him how to administer hormones himself, which was a great step forward,” Jessica said.

Jessica shared that she will never forget the day it was decided that this young person could start hormone therapy. Her team struggled at the time and wanted to make sure they were making the right decision, since hormone therapy has lasting effects, and the youth was still a minor. They worked closely with the youth’s DCFS guardian and psychologist, who determined they were ready to move forward with treatment. This DCFS guardian works with other transgender youth in the program to help determine whether a young person is ready to start hormone therapy now, or whether they could benefit from hormone therapy in the future but aren’t ready yet to begin this treatment.

Melissa and Jessica are proud of their “phenomenal nursing staff,” who they consider to be among the best Residential nurses in the state. They’re also proud of the growth and understanding exhibited by their staff.

“Even if staff have personal or religious beliefs that differ, our youth would never know, because their main focus is on making sure youth feel loved,” Melissa said. “When you know someone and you see their heart, you can say, ‘I don’t understand your experience, but I care about you, and that’s what matters.’”

Janet Ahern, the DCFS Guardian Administrator who works closely with Melissa and Jessica to ensure the highest standards of care for transgender youth, and each youth in care, shared, “One Hope United has been a leader in Residential care over the last several years in meeting the needs of our transgender youth. Staff has worked to understand these young people and create a welcoming community. With the help of allies in the community they meet youth where they are at and accompany them on their journeys.”

“Residential kids are just kids,” Melissa concluded. “When we began this undertaking, our leadership team never set a limit on the progress we could make. We have finite resources, but we’ve never hit a ceiling.”

Sometimes, youth in Residential care struggle when they step down to a traditional foster placement or reunify with their biological family. Owen, the young man who benefitted from a supportive therapist, Stephanie, is thriving as his authentic self. One Hope United will continue to provide compassionate care to young people of any race, gender, gender expression, gender identity, or sexual orientation, so they can discover who they are, and live authentically.

*Names of youth in care have been changed to protect privacy.

If you would like to support One Hope United’s efforts to help children and youth build happy, healthy lives, you can make a gift here.

Hope Talks | June 2021

Hope Talks

“Advocating for LGBTQ+ Foster and Adoptive Parents”

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Hope Talks 

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by Brian Rosenberg, Founder of Gays With Kids, to discuss Advocating for LGBTQ+ Foster and Adoptive Parents.

About Brian Rosenberg 

Brian Rosenberg has more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, but his real passion has been the creation of Gays With Kids, the one-stop destination for gay, bi and trans dads and dads-to-be. Brian and his husband Ferd became first-time dads back in 2009, creating their family through adoption and surrogacy. At the time, there were few resources available to help queer men become dads, and even fewer for those who already were, so they launched GWK in March 2014. Together since 1993, the secret to this couple’s longevity is Ferd’s prowess in the kitchen and Brian‘s great appreciation for anything his husband cooks!

About One Hope United 

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential. 

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One Hope United Facilitates Adoption One Day Before Youth’s 18th Birthday

One Hope United Facilitates Adoption One Day Before Youth’s 18th Birthday

Steven Ivy, foster and adoptive parent, describes the moment when his 17-year-old foster child, Michael, asked to be adopted, as one of the happiest in his life. Michael and Steven wanted to make sure Michael was legally adopted before he entered adulthood, because they felt adoption secured their lifelong family connection. After countless phone calls, meetings, and prolonged efforts by Michael’s DCFS guardian and One Hope United team, Michael’s adoption was finalized the day before his 18th birthday.

“People take for granted things like having a home to return to for the holidays, or a place to go when you’re having a hard time,” said Devin Dittrich, Director of Foster Care for Community-Based Family Services (CBFS) Programs at One Hope United. “Being adopted is different. It gives a child or teenager that legal bond. They can say this is my family regardless of where I am or what happens in life, and Steven and Michael made that commitment to each other.”

Michael and Steven understood each other right away. “We are very similar,” Steven shared. “We bonded quickly in the first year Michael was in my home. The challenges he faced drew me to him. I wanted to make sure he had all the help he needed.”

When Michael suffered an epileptic episode, Steven realized just how much Michael meant to him. Steven said, “I remember sitting on the kitchen floor with Michael’s head in my lap, thinking, my life is not complete without this child in it.”

Michael’s adoption presented significant challenges for several reasons, but because of the efforts of his care team and his adoptive father Steven, who Devin described as “the glue” in this effort, the team overcame every hurdle in finalizing the adoption. Michael and Steven’s story is historic, since theirs is the first case in Cook County that originated in the juvenile justice system and resulted in adoption.

When it seemed like the bureaucratic and legal hurdles may be too great to move Michael’s adoption forward,   reached out to the DCFS special attorney on Michael’s case, and asked this simple question: Why would we deny this child the opportunity to be adopted?

“The special circumstances of Michael’s situation forced DCFS and OHU to think  outside the box,” Devin shared. “We don’t usually have conference calls every Friday talking about a case, but all of our departments needed to come together to make this adoption happen. It showed a huge commitment from both of our agencies.”

Permanency is a significant term in the social services sector, because it encompasses so many aspects of what it takes for young people like Michael to build happy and healthy lives as adults. According to the Juvenile Law Center, permanency means young people have built positive, healthy, nurturing relationships with adults who provide emotional, financial, moral, educational, and other kinds of support as they mature into adulthood. Ideally, permanency takes the form of a relationship that has a legal component and provides a parent-child relationship.

Achieving permanency can be incredibly difficult for older youth and teenagers in foster care. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, nearly a quarter of the approximately 442,995 children in foster care are age 14 or older, and more than 15,000 young people age out of foster care at age 18 each year. The era of COVID-19 has only increased the disparity of resources available to young people aging out of foster care. According to Today, of the 18-23 year old’s who are currently in or recently aged out of foster care, 43% either were forced to leave their current housing situation or experienced homelessness or housing instability during the pandemic. On top of that, 55% of these young people reported they were food insecure during the COVID-19 crisis.

“There are teenagers out there who are lost, who no one is willing to work with,” Steven said. “Even at 18, there’s a lot I can do to prepare Michael for the outside world and instill family values in him before he goes out into that world.”

Steven chose to become a foster and adoptive parent, because when he was a kid, he needed a guardian who could provide a stable, loving home. He knows he can be that guardian for young people in similar situations.

Steven was removed from his biological parents’ care at the age of 9, and he aged out of the foster care system at 21. He shared that he felt blessed to be in foster homes with caring people, but because of his younger brother’s behavioral health issues, he and his brother were moved frequently. DCFS tried to keep them together, but eventually he and his brother ended up in different group homes.

As an adult, Steven thinks about the things he saw and experienced in foster homes, and how he could use his lived experience to help kids going through the same things he went through. Steven has fostered 11 children as a single father, and has adopted four young men, the oldest of whom is 21 and the youngest of whom is 14.

While Steven and Michael remain close, Michael struggles with aspects of adulthood. “Ever since he was 5 years old, Michael had basically no boundaries,” Steven said. “It’s tough for him to break that cycle. I’ll continue to work with him to get on a better path, and I’ll always be there for him.”

Steven concluded, “I’ve always wanted a big family – grandkids to come over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s all about family.”

Hope Talks | May 2021

Hope Talks

Aging Successfully Out of Foster Care”

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Hope Talks 

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve. 

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by Ángela Quijada-Banks, CEO of Soulful Liberation and Author of The Black Foster Youth Handbook, to discuss Aging Successfully Out of Foster Care. 

About Ángela Quijada-Banks 

Ángela Quijada-Banks is a best-selling Author, Educator, Artist, and Purpose Coach with a tenaciously innovative drive for revolutionary transformation in the political, economic, health care, and child welfare systems. She works every day to learn how we can dispute and overcome the disparities for lowincome communities of color. Ángela focuses on accountability, restoration, and holistic healing in young people of color. Ángela shared, I will not stop until I can no longer keep going. 

About One Hope United 

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential. 

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Celebrating Foster and Adoptive Mothers

“Jacob is a very kind young man whose greatest gifts are his quiet self-confidence, strength of character, and perseverance. We believe that we adopted each other. Having him as our son has enriched our lives.”

Cindy and Nancy Miller-Lusignan adopted their son Jacob in August of 2020, one month before Jacob turned 18. This Mother’s Day, One Hope United celebrates the selfless love our foster and adoptive mothers share, and the lasting impact they make in the lives of their children every day.

Nancy and Cindy received their first calling to become foster parents in 1989, when their nephew, Scottie, needed an immediate safe place to live. The situation was so urgent that after racing to New Hampshire, Nancy and Cindy finalized their guardianship of Scottie in the living room of the Justice of the Peace that night. “We had a lot to learn about the world of fostering, but we jumped in with both of our hearts,” Cindy shared.

Cindy and Nancy have always loved working with teenagers, providing unconditional love and support to their son Scottie as he healed from past trauma and became an adult. They said, “Honestly, the key principles for loving and raising teenagers are no different than for toddlers and young children. All they need is love, consistency, and help building a strong foundation.”

While it was impossible for two women to legally adopt at the time, Scottie found his forever family in Cindy and Nancy. Scottie shared, “I know who my parents are. I chose them because they were always there with love and structure in place. They say it takes a village to raise a child – I believe it takes a strong woman, and I have two.”

The couple got involved with One Hope United after attending an event at the Lake Villa residential home in 2009. One afternoon, they shared with an OHU staff member that their dog, Penne, is a certified therapy dog. Soon after, Nancy and Cindy began volunteering with the Lake Villa program regularly, often bringing Penne along to provide therapeutic services and comfort to young people on the campus. Cindy and Nancy are still actively involved with the Lake Villa program, and Cindy currently serves as Treasurer on One Hope United’s Board of Directors.

When Jacob was first placed at Lake Villa, staff members called Nancy, and asked if she could bring Penne over for a visit with Jacob. Cindy and Jacob began spending time together almost every week. Cindy said, “The very second I met Jacob I fell in love with him and knew I wanted to spend more time with him. After all of two minutes, I just knew we were meant to be together forever. Jacob radiates personal strength, and the depth of his character is apparent to anyone who meets him.”

Nancy and Cindy continued to spend time with Jacob as he settled into life at OHU’s Lake Villa campus. They have enjoyed attending Jacob’s basketball games ever since he was in seventh grade, when Cindy was the only person he allowed to come because he knew she wouldn’t embarrass him. “That was an immense honor and privilege!” Cindy shared.

While they felt disappointed when Jacob was placed with another foster parent after completing treatment at Lake Villa, Cindy and Nancy knew they wanted to remain in his life. Cindy began visiting Jacob in Rockford a few times each week to attend basketball games, school events, tutoring, meetings – anything that was needed or wanted. They also welcomed Jacob into their home for weekend visits and vacations.

After slightly more than a year, new demands, including caring for an ill family member and juggling education and work, led Jacob’s foster father to ask Nancy and Cindy if they would become Jacob’s foster parents. Jacob moved in with them the next day.

Nancy and Cindy shared that their OHU licensing worker was very skilled, and kept them informed at every step of their foster care and adoption journey. “She coached us on technical issues and calmed our nerves,” they said. “Most of all, in the early morning when I got the call from Jacob’s foster dad asking if we could take him, she made it happen in 24 hours. She made a huge difference.”

Because Jacob was an older youth in care, he had the right to determine his permanency status – whether or not he wanted to be adopted. As an older teen with a long history of trauma and failed placements, Jacob was most interested in developing independent living skills, not adoption. But one morning a few days before an upcoming permanency hearing, Jacob told Cindy, “I’m ready now.”

Jacob will be graduating from high school in a couple of days, and is looking forward to attending college in the fall, where he earned a scholarship to study art and has signed to play college basketball.

When asked what advice they would share with other foster or adoptive parents, Cindy and Nancy shared, “Strength in and commitment to your decision are critical to success. You will have friends and family members who will not understand, but you will find support in unexpected places. The end goal of fostering is to help a young person find their own way and develop their own voice.”

Cindy concluded, “Our family is undeniable proof that One Hope United makes dreams come true for kids and parents.”

Hope Talks | April 2021

Hope Talks

Creating a Better Future for Children by Preventing Child Abuse”

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Hope Talks

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve.

In this month’s episode, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer is joined by Katelyn Brewer, President & CEO of Darkness to Light, to discuss Creating a Better Future for Children by Preventing Child Abuse.

About Katelyn Brewer

High energy, entrepreneurial executive, Katelyn N. Brewer, is passionate about empowering people, organizations, and communities to enhance the impact of social movements. As President & CEO of Darkness to Light, the nation’s leading advocate for the prevention of child sexual abuse, her expertise in transforming organizational cultures, achieving programmatic scale, and implementing behavior change communication lends invaluable insight to the larger conversation of child protection as a collective adult responsibility. Through education, advocacy, and research, Darkness to Light continues to revolutionize the way society keeps children safe from abuse.

Katelyn’s dedication to innovation, emerging technologies, and cross-team alignment empowers nonprofits to achieve critical social goals. Her work has resulted in sustainable change for communities, both nationally and internationally. Katelyn continually demonstrates that grassroots community initiatives lay the groundwork for organizations to expand their missions globally.

Katelyn is a graduate of Wheaton College in Boston, MA with a bachelor’s in International Relations and French. She lives in Charleston, SC.

About One Hope United

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential.

Don't miss out on future Hope Talks!

Sign up to have future Hope Talks emailed directly to your inbox and never miss a future episode!


Providing Hope and Healing for Survivors of Child Abuse

Providing Hope and Healing for Survivors of Child Abuse

Written by Dennis Delgado, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services

Why does child abuse occur in the first place? Truthfully, there is never any excuse for it. But while it can be difficult to view perpetrators of child abuse as human beings facing many challenges in their own lives, they are in fact struggling with things like lack of parental capacity or parental education. Even in the face of such adversity, there is hope. With systems in place to address factors including stress, substance abuse, mental health treatment, and parental support, our communities can come together to help keep our children safe.

Abuse causes severe trauma for children and youth – trauma that can often be prevented through additional resources and education for families. The case managers and therapists at OHU’s Community Based Family Services provide evidence-based programs for youth who have experienced trauma, including child abuse. These programs, including Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST) and Intensive Family Services (IFS), are designed to address the needs of youth who may still be experiencing emotional or behavioral problems as they process trauma. We offer resources, education, and redirection that increases their capacity to lead happier and healthier lives as they grow and move toward healing.

Additionally, OHU helps caregivers, as well as the overall family unit, to overcome concerns that have led to unsafe living conditions or decreased parenting capacity. These programs include, but are not limited to, Intact Family Services, Foster Care, Extensive Community Home Outreach (ECHO), Wrap, and traditional outpatient counseling services. Our case managers and therapists in these programs target the specific reasons for case referral, as well as the factors that contributed to caregivers choosing to abuse or neglect their children. Ultimately, these services allow caregivers to gain the knowledge, understanding, and treatment needed to fully care for their children in a manner that encourages growth, development, and healing.

Healing is an interesting concept that every person understands differently. At One Hope United, healing is the process through which children and families can become healthy again. We all heal, and become whole again, in ways that are unique to our own minds. Real healing is an individual journey where we restore what is damaged to work toward a healthy future. It looks different for every person, because to heal, each person needs to make a conscious decision to allow the process to begin. Just as healthcare professionals helps patients heal after a physical injury or illness, One Hope United’s child welfare professionals, social workers and therapists guide children, youth and families toward a path and lifestyle of healing that is sustainable and life-affirming.

You can support One Hope United’s child abuse prevention programs by donating here.

Hope Talks | March 2021

Hope Talks

“Making a Difference in the Lives of Children and Families Through Advocacy”

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Hope Talks

One Hope United is proud to bring you Hope Talks, monthly conversations with leaders in the child and family welfare sector. By having these conversations, we hope to inspire actionable change and work together to improve outcomes for the children and families we serve.

In this month’s episode, One Hope United’s President and CEO, Dr. Charles A. Montorio-Archer, is joined by Dr. Jody Levison-Johnson, President and CEO of The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation, to discuss Making a Difference in the Lives of Children and Families Through Advocacy.

About Jody Levison-Johnson, PhD, LCSW

Dr. Jody Levison-Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker with nearly 30 years of experience in the field of human services. She currently serves as the President and CEO of The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and Council on Accreditation, two nonprofit organizations in the midst of a merger working to create a dynamic network of human and social service organizations, activate the power of the social sector, and propel continuous evolution and policy change.

Jody is a longstanding champion for systems change that results in the ability for individuals and communities to thrive. Over several decades, her career has crossed a variety of private and public sector settings, including direct service organizations, a national membership association, state and local governments, and a management and consulting organization. Jody’s experiences leading system reform efforts across the country have prompted her interest in the environmental contexts that surround deep change in social and public systems. Jody holds a Master of Social Work degree from Syracuse University and a Master of Arts and PhD in Leadership and Change from Antioch University.

About One Hope United

Founded in 1895, One Hope United is a multistate nonprofit that helps children and families build the skills to live life without limits. We serve over 10,000 children and families each year through education centers, child and family services, counseling, and residential programs. With our evidence-based and trauma-informed practices, we empower children and families to see and create a future where, regardless of their past, they can reach their full potential.

Don't miss out on future Hope Talks!

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The Difference a Social Worker Can Make

No matter the circumstance surrounding a child’s interaction with a social worker, children remember how they were treated, and how their social worker made them feel. This March, in honor of National Social Work Month, One Hope United is proud to share the impact that our social workers make in the lives of thousands of children and families each year.  

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world through their relationships with their primary caregivers. If a child has experienced trauma and, as a result, feels that they can’t trust their parent or caregiver, a social worker may be one of the only consistent and dependable adult figures in that child’s life. 

A child may meet their social worker for the first time when they’re waiting for a foster care placement, traveling for a visit with their biological family members, or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. Having a caring figure in these turbulent moments gives children a sense of stability. Courtney Dundee, therapist with One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, described her role as “walking alongside children during the hardest part of their little lives, and helping them get to the other side where they feel hopeful and safe once again.”

One Hope United’s former clients have shared that the small interactions they had with their social worker made all the difference. Whether a social worker remembered their favorite flavor of soda or chatted with them about a TV show, these moments helped them to feel seen and recognized. 

Sarah Tunning, Executive Director of OHU’s Florida Services, shared a memory of a young boy who spent one day at her office while waiting for his next foster care placement. He exhibited several complex behavioral issues related to past trauma and was having a hard day. His case manager told Sarah what his favorite food and drink items were from a few restaurants in the area, and after Sarah picked them up and the boy had his meal, he felt much calmer, and was able to relax. “We spend a lot of time with these children during ‘in-between’ times, riding in the car or waiting at the office,” Sarah said. “The in-between moments seem small, but they allow children to have more interactions with people who really care.”

Teenagers involved in the child welfare system also benefit from a supportive and caring social worker. They may keep in touch with their social worker even after services end, often turning to them for help connecting to community resources, or simply for someone to listen. Mallory Johnston, Case Manager with One Hope United’s Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS) program, described her experience working with a homeless teenager in December of 2020. She helped him move into a homeless shelter in Mount Vernon, Illinois on his 18th birthday, and throughout their 90 days together, Mallory helped him to enroll in high school and obtain a medical card. They also discussed his future and worked on important life skills. He is currently on-track to graduate in May of 2021. Mallory said, “He sees me as a constant support system, and as someone who is willing to help him with whatever he needs at the time. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not receive a ‘good morning’ text from him.”

Additionally, social workers support parents who may feel they have almost no one else to turn to. Dennis Delgado, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, shared about a 17-year-old single mother of two who received services from a One Hope United social worker. This young woman was a senior in high school and working part-time to care for her children.  She also was a victim of domestic violence and had recently lost the support of her mother. She often shared concerns about having had to grow up too soon and missing out on her youth.

This young woman shared that she felt her life was transformed after receiving domestic violence services, paid day care services, and individual counseling. She also received day-to-day household essentials, including food, diapers, and children’s clothes. While working with her OHU case manager, she decided to fully end her relationship with her children’s father, and obtained an order of protection against him. She was also able to attend her senior prom and graduate from high school.

Initially, this young woman could not believe her social worker would actually help her with her needs,” Dennis said. “They were successful because they collaborated for the good of the family.”

Dennis concluded, “Social workers are essentially a light in the darkness that the children and families we serve often face. They are often angels in disguise.     

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