Building Evidence with Private Funding, Leveraging Learning to Unlock Public Dollars

Courtesy of LSSI

For the past four years, The Christopher Family Foundation has supported implementation of the Therapeutic Foster Care program at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). Therapeutic Foster Care, or TFC, is a trauma-informed and evidence-based treatment program designed to address the needs of children in foster care who have severe behavioral challenges within single-family homes rather than in institutional settings or group homes. This is accomplished by training professional TFC foster parents to care for the child using an intensive, individualized intervention focused on developing pro-social behaviors in the home, school, and community.

Key to the TFC model is a team approach, in which the child, their foster family, and their aftercare family are surrounded by an ecosystem of support, including therapists, caseworkers, and skills coaches who work closely together to coordinate treatment. Communication between the TFC foster parent and LSSI staff occurs daily, and the foster parent is considered a full member of the treatment team. Aftercare families also work to practice the same parenting skills that the foster parents are working on with the child to provide consistency when the child completes TFC.

This teaming structure is one reason that TFC youth and families have experienced more successful outcomes. Chapin Hall has studied the TFC pilot and found that 69.2% of TFC youth were discharged to home-based care, compared to 32.5% of youth in a residential care comparison group. TFC youth spent an average of 292 days in foster care, while the comparison group spent 507 days. (Illinois has historically ranked 49th in the nation for longest length in substitute care.) A team approach has also been more meaningful for LSSI staff, and retention is higher for TFC staff than on other foster care teams at LSSI.

While the results of TFC are impressive, the program’s reach is quite small, and the model is both time- and resource-intensive. This led LSSI to consider if there were elements of TFC that could be applied more broadly to their traditional foster care work with more than 2,700 children across the state of Illinois each year. Enter a new program developed by LSSI called Families Together. Building on the evidence of TFC’s impact, Families Together replaces the traditional paradigm of one caseworker responsible for the triad of child, birth family, and foster family with teams of three who each focus on one element of the triad and work together to coordinate care and develop shared outcomes. In July 2022, LSSI secured a multi-year state contract to roll out the program, and plan to begin with an initial caseload of 121 cases.  This is an excellent example of using the smaller pool of private dollars to build an evidence base for new practices that can then be leveraged into larger-scale public support.

In all aspects of their work, LSSI seeks to provide healing, justice, and wholeness to the people and communities of Illinois. They are dogged in this pursuit, and we are hopeful that this new initiative may offer an even smoother and quicker road towards healing.

To learn more about LSSI, Therapeutic Foster Care, and Families Together, please contact Terri Gens, Senior Director of Development, at terri.gens@lssi.org.

—Contributed by Molly Truglia, Program Associate