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In-home services to keep adoptive and guardianship families together

The Illinois Adoption & Guardianship Preservation Program aims to prevent children from returning to the system by improving family functioning and children’s behaviors.

Services include crisis intervention, case assessment and management, clinical services, and support groups.

This is one of 31 profiles that appears in Support Matters: Lessons from the Field on Services for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Care Families.

Publication date: 2015

Population served

Families in Illinois who have at least one child under the age of 18 who was adopted or for whom guardianship was awarded through the Illinois Department of Child and Families Services. The program serves all types of adoptive families.

Each year, the program serves about 1,100 adoptive and guardianship families.

Theory of change

Comprehensive, home-based assistance from highly skilled adoption- and guardianship-sensitive professionals can enable struggling families to remain together.


Services are provided by six contracted agencies around Illinois, with agencies delivering services through more than 20 sites statewide. Contracted providers include child-placing agencies and multi-service social service agencies.

Role of public child welfare agency

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services contracts with the private agencies to provide services. The department also promotes the program to adoptive and guardianship families and refers families directly to the program in their area.

Key service components

While each contractor offers a slightly different Adoption and Guardianship Preservation Program, in all cases most services are provided in the family’s home. Services are typically offered for 360 days but can be prolonged for up to 24 continuous months, with approval for extension.

Services include:

  • Crisis intervention — Program staff responds to families by phone within 24 hours and make a home visit within three days of first contact.
  • Comprehensive assessment — Therapists help families identify their strengths, complete an assessment, and develop a family treatment plan within 30 days of the family’s referral to the program.
  •  Clinical services — Therapeutic intervention includes individual or family counseling to help parents, children, and youth understand the dynamics of adoption and the impact of loss and trauma. Services are designed to help the family see the link between the child’s current difficulties and the child’s history. Adoption/guardianship therapists may provide intensive, home-based services.
  • Case management and advocacy services — To help the family follow the treatment plan developed during the assessment phase, workers attend meetings and court hearings, make referrals for outside services, and accompany the family to services if the family wants extra support. Workers help families access services when necessary.
  • Support groups — Agencies offer support groups for parents and children at varying times and locations. Some sites offer ongoing groups; others offer time-limited groups.
  • Children’s mental health services — If a child has significant mental health needs, the program will provide or facilitate services.
  • Cash assistance — Families can receive up to $500 per year if they have a specific financial hardships or need to access services that cannot be covered through other means.

The state also offers a number of other services to adoptive and guardianship families, although not specifically through the Adoption and Guardianship Preservation Program. These include:

  • Maintaining Adoption Connections Programs — Two agencies in Cook County, IL, provide outreach and a variety of short-term clinical, case management, and advocacy services to families who have adopted or taken subsidized guardianship of children through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
  • Respite care — Families of children and youth in subsidized adoptions or guardianship placements can receive up to one year of free respite care provided through purchase of service agreements between the Department of Children and Family Services and licensed child welfare providers. This can include hourly in-home care, overnight care, and special camps.
  • Older caregiver services — Staff at two agencies assess the needs of older parents and caregivers, help them develop a stronger support system, and work with them to make backup plans in case serious health issues arise.
  • Payment for residential treatment — In some very select cases, the department will grant a waiver to pay for residential treatment for a child or youth who is being served by the Adoption and Guardianship Preservation Program and for whom clinicians believe the best treatment option is residential care.
  • Training — The department’s Office of Training hosts training for adoptive, guardianship, and foster families, and contracts with Adoption Learning Partners to provide online training for parents.
  • Search and reunion — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services funds the Midwest Adoption Center to provide search and reunion services.

Outreach efforts

The contracted community-based organizations have brochures and websites and also seek media attention to promote the available services. The department promotes the program on its website and in brochures provided to adoptive and guardianship families.

Most families refer themselves to the program. Others are referred by child welfare or other community agencies or service providers.

Staffing and training

  • The number of staff varies by agency, with services most typically offered by adoption/guardianship therapists. A few agencies use case managers.
  • Adoption/guardianship therapists have average caseloads of 10 families.

Training requirements:

  • Adoption/guardianship therapists are required to have a master’s degree in counseling, social work, or a related field. They also have advanced training and experience and are licensed or working toward licensure.
  • Case managers must have a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related field plus advanced training and experience.
  • Staff are required to complete the Adoption and Guardianship Preservation curriculum developed by the Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State University, as well as training in Theraplay; the Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency framework; the Trust-Based Relational Intervention model; and trauma.

Evaluation and outcomes

The Center for Adoption Studies at Illinois State University has conducted research and evaluation on the program in the past. Current evaluation requirements for each program include maintenance of a quality assurance process that includes compilation of outcomes and compilation of client satisfaction surveys, which are reviewed by the department.

Key findings:

  • The rate of children and youth in adoption and guardianship returning to the system has been less than 1 percent for all adoptive and subsidized guardianship families.
  • In 2006, Susan Livingston Smith reported the following outcomes for the program based on data collected on more than 900 families served from 1999 to 2001:
    • At the conclusion of services, social workers reported 74 percent of families had somewhat or significantly improved family functioning, and 70 percent of children had somewhat or significantly improved behaviors.
    • 87 percent of children were still living at home, and 94 percent either lived at home or were expected to return home from an out-of-home placement.
    • 92 percent of families who returned a survey were satisfied or very satisfied with services.

Budget and funding

Approximate annual budget: $11 million

Funding sources include:

  • State child welfare funds
  • Federal Title IV-B, Part 2 funds
  • General state revenue
  • A small amount of federal Title XIX Medicaid funds

Partnerships required or recommended

The Department of Children and Family Services partners with local community-based organizations to provide services. Each community provider has its own local partners to reach families and to identify additional services that may be of use to families.


Reaching all of the adoptive and subsidized guardianship families entitled to services and providing services as early as possible is a challenge.

Learn more

Pamela Mills, Statewide Adoption/Guardianship Preservation Services, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


  • Christine Feldman, written communication, September 9, 2014.
  • Susan L. Smith, “Supporting and Preserving Adoptive Families: Profiles of Publicly Funded Post-Adoption Services” (2014), accessed August 18, 2014.
  • Christine Feldman, “Illinois Adoption Preservation Program,” The Roundtable: 26 (2013), accessed November 9, 2014.
  • Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Post Adoption and Guardianship Services (2013), accessed August 18, 2014, (updated version, January 2015).
  • Susan L. Smith, “A Study of the Illinois Adoption/Guardianship Preservation Program” in Martha Morrison Dore, The Postadoption Experience: Adoptive Families’ Service Needs and Service Outcomes (Child Welfare League of America, 2006).


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