On Tuesday, November 12, the University Based Child and Family Policy Consortium held a webinar, “Partnering to Serve Pregnant and Parenting Youth in Foster Care in Illinois,” explained the results of the Healthy Families Illinois (HFI) Home Visiting Pilot Program. Speakers included Jaime Russell from Children’s Home and Aid and Amy Dworsky from the University of Chicago.
Home visitors work with pregnant and parenting youth (PPY) to strengthen the parent/child relationship, promote healthy development and child safety, and model positive parenting. Visits may continue for up to five years, and the length and frequency of the visits are based on the needs of the PPY.
To be eligible for the pilot program, youth were required to live in the zip code served by a pilot HFI provider, be pregnant or parenting a child less than one year old, be in the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) custody, agree to accept the service, and not participating in any other parenting services to avoid duplication of services. The pilot program collected information from young parents, home visitors, supervisors, and doulas. Participating in the pilot program were 43 females with an average age of 18.3 years. In addition, 18 youth received doula services.
Pregnant and parenting youth involved in the program shared that they developed strong relationships with their home visitors and doulas and trusted them more than other professional supports. One PPY said, “I’m not the type of person that when I meet somebody, I feel like I can trust them and talk to them. With my home visitor and doula, it was just different. It just felt like they understood me.” The pilot program helped PPY develop coping skills, learn about childbirth and parenting, and develop positive relationships with the fathers of their babies.
Some factors complicated the engagement and service delivery in the pilot:
• Many youth experienced changes in placement. These placements would often be in a different home visitor’s service area or an area without a home visitor from the pilot.
• Several PPY were hospitalized or spent time in detention. There were also situations where the child was removed from the PPY by DCFS.
• Youth were living away from their placements.
However, despite these complicating factors, home visitors and doulas were going above and beyond to assist PPY. One home visitor transported a college student to and from a crisis nursery. Many home visitors visited youth in juvenile detention and residential care facilities often hours away. A home visitor even helped a PPY prepare for a job interview and watched her baby while she was at the interview, helping her secure a job. One PPY shared, “My home visitor kind of became a mother figure because I don’t have a lot of those. I don’t have any of those.”
The next step now that the pilot is completed is to implement this program statewide by creating more sites, add new program models, and establish a structure for monitoring. Lessons learned from the pilot will be helpful for the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which allows states to use IV-E funds to provide in-home parent skill-based programs for pregnant or parenting youth in foster care.