Child services agency hires new vendor for home visits

The Collaboration for Early Childhood brings aboard Easter Seals

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

The Collaboration for Early Childhood has brought on Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago to administer home visiting services to families with prenatal to 3-year-old children in Oak Park and River Forest.

The Collaboration was formed in 2002 through a partnership between Oak Park and River Forest taxing bodies for the purpose of enhancing early childhood resources in the area.

In August, the agency announced that it was parting ways with Parenthesis Family Center, the Oak Park-based organization that previously had been providing the home visits, as well as other services — including parenting coaching, discussion groups and informational workshops — to area families who needed them.

In August, Ann C. Courter, the Collaboration's board chair, told Wednesday Journal the split was due to "some serious issues" related to Parenthesis' financial stability, performance and reporting.

Notably, the Collaboration board members and administrators weren't satisfied with Parenthesis' data-tracking capabilities. The organization's home visitors were supposed to input data about each home visit and each family into a digital family contact management system called Visit Tracker.

"We had just a lot of time and energy invested in trying to make sure that all of [Parenthesis'] staff and administrators understood how that should work," Courter told Wednesday Journal at the time. "Eventually, we got there, but it was quite a struggle."

The board of the Collaboration voted unanimously to authorize the contract with Easter Seals at its Oct. 19 meeting.

"After a thorough evaluation, we believe we have found a strong agency with local roots that will provide high-quality, innovative services to area children and their families," Courter said in the statement.

"Easter Seals has experience in coordinating outreach and services with other home visiting providers, as well as expertise with research, community collaboration, and a commitment to the use of data for quality improvement."

The new vendor, which has an office in Oak Park at 120 Madison St., will only be paid to administer home visiting services, so the dollar amount of its contract will be smaller than Parenthesis', said Carolyn Newberry Schwartz, the Collaboration's executive director, in a recent phone interview.

An April 2015 budget report for the Collaboration shows that the organization spent about $270,000 for home visiting services between July 2014 and March 2015, roughly 60 percent of the $447,000 it budgeted for those services for that year.

Schwartz said the Collaboration will still support the efforts of Parenthesis and plans to collaborate with them in other areas, albeit not contractually.

"We're still planning to work with them, but in other capacities," she said. "They offer important programs in Oak Park, and we plan to fully support them in those areas."

According to a joint statement released by Easter Seals and the Collaboration, the former organization serves more than 38,000 individuals and families "through comprehensive autism and child development programs and services."

Since 1968, the organization has operated a variety of programs in Oak Park in areas such as workforce development, medical rehabilitation and veterans' services. It also operates a Head Start program in the village.

"We are delighted to grow our child development services to include the Partnering With Parents Program," noted Tim Muri, president and CEO of Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, in the joint statement.

"Easter Seals has provided home visiting services for more than 30 years. We look forward to continuing to provide help, hope and answers for children and families in Oak Park/River Forest."


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