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Differential Response Program Ensures a Family Remains Safely Together

Shortly before Christmas in Dec. 2010, Mary Nauert was running out of hope after a divorce from her children’s father. With two daughters to support, no where to live and no work experience or high school diploma, Mary was struggling to survive. Her ex-husband helped her find a small place to live, but it had no heat, no running water and was unhealthy for a family to occupy.

Mary’s new boyfriend, Keith Brumley, who was recently laid off and without a high school diploma as well, moved into the home with Mary and her daughters. Keith brought with him a daughter of his own. Together, Mary, Keith and the three girls lived together in one bedroom that was sealed off from the rest of the house and heated by a kerosene heater.

When the Illinois Department of Children and Families (DCFS) first sent a social worker out to the family’s house, the family was cited for environmental neglect due to unlivable conditions. The DCFS supervisor first thought the children would need to be placed in foster care. Thanks to a new program called Differential Response, which is piloted by One Hope United, the family was able to remember together.

Lucas Sigrist, an OHU case manager, began immediately working with the family through the Differential Response program. The program is an alternative means of responding to allegations of child neglect that are of low to moderate risk. Instead of removing the children from the home, the program works to strengthen the family’s support system in hopes of keeping the family together and helping them grow stronger as a family unit.

The family was visibly scared when Lucas showed up at their door, Mary and Keith deathly afraid that their daughters were going to be taken away from them. With zero income, the family had little to no hope of things changing. Through the program, Lucas began working intensively with the family, connecting them with concrete supports and assisting them in making the needed changes to improve their lives, for a period of 90 days.

First, Lucas was able to supply the family with smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguisher to mitigate safety concerns due to the source of heating until the furnace could be fixed. Until water service could be restored, the children’s teachers at school were helpful with providing showers for the girls and even assisting with the family’s laundry. Lucas linked the family with current state programs such as food stamps and medical cards as well as with the Salvation Army. He helped them find a family dentist and a doctor. Lucas worked with the family on life skills such as budgeting, positive communication counseling, financial literacy training, anger management and strength focused empowerment. He encouraged them with GED information, secured some cash assistance and fixed their furnace so they would have heat. And, two truck loads of supplies were donated to fix up the family’s ailing house.

The family also had strong personal connections that helped support them through the crisis in addition to Lucas. Mary and Keith relied on their family, friends and school personnel for transportation, money, emotional support, washing of clothes and help fixing up the residence.

Through the Differential Response program, Lucas was able to help the family use concrete supports and natural supports to aid them in their time of need and secure a healthy environment free of neglect for the three young girls. Lucas noted that Keith and Mary proved to be resilient through the process as barriers and obstacles presented themselves.

“Though they never had much, I always saw Keith and Mary put their children first to make sure their needs were met,” said Lucas. “Through the Differential Response program the family stayed intact and was able to overcome problems that seemed hopeless. Although Mary and Keith wanted to give up sometimes they never did and continued to overcome adversities.”