In 2023, Little City’s Foster Care & Adoption program made the kind of difference that lasts forever.

For the first time ever, the program had the benefit of a permanency department, whose staff specialize in finalizing permanent placements, ranging from adoption, returns to home, guardianship, or emancipation.

Previously, case managers handled much of the final leg work for their cases, slowing down the process considerably. But with the new department, Little City’s Foster Care & Adoption team has nearly doubled their yearly average and is on pace to achieve 40 youth permanencies by the end of the fiscal year.

“This is by far the most we have ever accomplished in a single year,” said Mariah Brandon, Family Recruitment & Matching Supervisor for Little City. “Having that permanency team really allows everyone to focus on their own expertise. The case managers now can concentrate their efforts on being that liaison for families and making sure the plans are followed.”

Part of the increase in finding forever homes for more youth is due to the program’s continued reach. Mariah said there has been a lot of success in Joliet and Matteson, where the program first expanded in 2022, and the community partnerships have helped bolster support.

Partnerships have been especially strong in Joliet where institutions like the Joliet Slammers have been helpful collaborators on numerous occasions. She also said donations have increased to make sure each child is supported. In 2023, Little City was able to provide all 223 youth in care with back-to-school materials thanks to support received at the summer picnic, and each youth received gifts for the holidays thanks to donations from local businesses.

“We’ve had incredible support this year and a lot of engagement from supporters and families,” Mariah said. “We were able to provide more than 200 hours of training this year to foster parents just because of the interest and engagement.”

And while the focus is always on the end goal of permanent placements, Mariah said it was the clinical services in the early stages that enabled the team to achieve the new permanency benchmarks in 2023. More in-home services were offered in 2023 than ever before thanks to the addition of managed care organization insurance that helped limit costs for families.

Mariah said the in-home therapy helps both the youth in care and the family adjust to the big changes that are part of the foster experience, address underlying emotional and behavioral issues that can be common among the youth in care, and focus on the goals of each family and individual.

“They are the backbone of our agency,” Mariah said of clinical services. “They are the reason we have the success stories we do.”

“To be able to go into the home and work directly with the family and youth is the most foundational work we do. There is a lot to navigate, and they do an incredible job of helping families and children reach their goals.”

2024 is set to be an even bigger year for the program as more families come to Little City eager to become involved in the fostering and adoption process. But as Little City continues to grow into one of the state’s top foster care and adoption agencies, the demand also grows.

If you or a friend or family member has ever been interested in the foster care and adoption process, please contact Mariah Brandon at [email protected] for more information.