It is the mission of Options & Advocacy is to build resiliency in the individuals and families that we serve.
Options & Advocacy for McHenry County was incorporated in 1991. We opened our doors in 1994 providing pre-admission screening and case coordination services to people with developmental disabilities. Our staff included two full-time and two part-time staff members. Our initial budget was a mere $125,889.
As we grew so did our services we provided which include; Bogard Service Coordination, Home Based Support, WRAP Service Coordination for children with severe mental illness, Waiver Case Coordination (now known as ISSA – Individual Services and Support Advocacy), and Project Success. The addition of the Child & Family Connections (CFC) program expanded our staff and the focus of Options & Advocacy to provide services through the lifespan of our clients. Child & Family Connections is the State of Illinois Early Intervention System for infants and children under the age of three.
Today we have grown to twenty-eight employees. We have three programs running out of Options and Advocacy – Child & Family Connections (CFC) for children under the age of three and Community Access Coordination (CAC) which serves everyone over the age of three, and the Epilepsy Support Program which infants, children, and adults with epilepsy.
At Options and Advocacy, every person that we serve has an individual service plan which reflects the goals, strengths, and needs for that particular individual. For our Child & Family Connections clients, that plan centers around the family and reflects the developmental goals that each family has for its young child. For persons served in our Community Access Coordination, individual plans also reflect goals, strengths, and areas that need further development. Their plans also incorporate the values of self advocacy, self direction, community inclusion and choice. We believe that every individual has the right to live, work, and play in the community of his or her choice. For persons with epilepsy, their plans focus on building independence and understanding and managing their epilepsy effectively. There is a large component of the Epilepsy Support Program that focuses on community education. That occurs in schools, agencies, and other sites.
With the help of our trained and dedicated staff our clients and their families obtain critical information and guidance. Our CFC division served over 1,200 children experiencing a delay in their development or who have a diagnosis known to lead to developmental delays. The families learn to integrate activities that promote typical development and learn how to effectively participate in the development of service plans.
Community Access Coordination (CAC) currently serves approximately 320 individuals. CAC provides educational advocacy to our families who need help in accessing services within the school system, while promoting positive relationships between families and school districts. A pre-admission screening helps us to determine potential eligibility for state funded services to our families. We also provide screening for individuals hospitalized or placed in nursing homes for short term rehabilitation. Individuals found eligible are given a variety of service options. Part of this program includes monitoring health, safety and services for people in residential and community settings.
On February 1, 2010, Options & Advocacy for McHenry County welcomed a new program to its array of services. The Epilepsy Support Program was added and is staffed by experienced staff including a part-time registered nurse. The program serves infants, children, and adults with epilepsy. It provides a wide range of service coordination activities including education regarding epilepsy, medication access and education, advocacy, training of school staff, development of individual seizure plans, employment counseling, support groups, information and referrals. The Epilepsy Support Program also provides access to neurological evaluations and care through local epilepsy clinics. This program enables us to provide a higher level of coordination for our infants, children, and adults who have epilepsy along with other disabling conditions. It also improves our access to the very best neurologists and other specialists in our region. The Epilepsy Support Program is available to McHenry County residents and is designed to help persons with epilepsy reach their full potential in an environment of empowerment and independence. There are currently 230 people receiving services through this program.
In July 2011, Options & Advocacy added the Autism Support program which had initially been part of the McHenry County Mental Health Board. This program provides support and service coordination to children and young adults who have or suspect that they have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Services available to families include connection to diagnostic locations, individualized service plans, support group opportunities, educational advocacy including team consultations and classroom observation, game nights and other social activities, and a monthly newsletter which includes a wide range of relevant information for families. Families who have a child with severe autism and are at a crisis level of need, may be eligible for wraparound services. The increasing numbers of children with this diagnosis create a tremendous need for this program. As with all of our programs, we strive to meet the needs of the community despite and struggle with limited funding resources.
Some of the many challenges Options and Advocacy faces daily is the ability to access state funds for all supports (community and residential) which is limited to crisis situations. Young adults are transitioning from special education to no services at all. Without increase in our funding – we struggle to address the rising cost of doing business. Unfortunately Illinois is ranked 51st in how it supports persons with disabilities. There is an increasing demand for services, with diminishing resources and competition for public fundraising dollars.
Options and Advocacy works closely with other community and state entities, including but not limited to; McHenry County Behavioral Healthcare Network, McHenry County Local Interagency Council, Child & Adolescent Local Area Network, Human Service Network, Illinois ARC, McHenry County Transition Committee, and Illinois Association of Independent Service Coordination Agencies.
Above and beyond what we are funded for, Options & Advocacy provides other opportunities for our individuals and their families. We host a Parent Conference every other year that provides key educational and support opportunities to our families with well respected experts on a wide range of topics. We hold Hot Topic Breakfasts for our younger families. We have play groups in collaboration with NISRA for our younger children and their siblings. These playgroups provide opportunities for families to learn how to play in ways that promote the healthy development of their little ones. We hold monthly developmental screenings and vision screenings. We have monthly hearing screenings with audiologists from Sedom for our CFC children. Each year we have a holiday party for CFC families complete with Santa and Mrs. Claus. This provides a unique opportunity for our little ones to meet Santa in a low key controlled environment that is not threatening. Most of our children would have a very difficult time going to see Santa in a mall or other large setting. With a lot of love and compassion from a local parish, our families that are experiencing financial challenges have received a generous outpouring of gifts for the holidays. These gifts include underwear, flannel shirts, coats, toys, gas and food cards.
Our strength comes from our very dedicated and knowledgeable staff, a very supportive Board of Directors, and collaborative community relationships. With these strengths we strive to continue to expand and improve our services we provide to our clients and their families.
Our Mission Statement is very poignant and taken very seriously in the hearts of all staff members – It is the mission of Options & Advocacy to build resiliency in the individuals and families that we serve.
Cindy Sullivan Executive Director
Options and Advocacy for McHenry County