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 the services that we provided. Those services were 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 part of the State of Illinois Early Intervention System for infants and children under the age of three.

Today we have grown to thirty-one employees. We operate three programs – Child & Family Connections (CFC) for children under the age of three who are experiencing delays in their development, Community Access Coordination (CAC) which serves individuals over the age of three who have a developmental disability, and the Autism Resource Center which serves children and young adults who have an autism spectrum diagnosis.

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 and Autism Resource Center, 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 serves over 1,200 children annually who are 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 staffed by experienced staff including a part-time registered nurse. The program served infants, children, and adults with epilepsy. It provided 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 provided access to neurological evaluations and care through local epilepsy clinics. This program enabled us to provide a higher level of coordination for our infants, children, and adults who have epilepsy along with other disabling conditions. It also improved access to neurologists and other specialists in our region.   The Epilepsy Support Program was available to McHenry County residents and was designed to help persons with epilepsy reach their full potential.

In July 2011, Options & Advocacy added the Autism Resource Center, 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.

In February 2014, the Epilepsy Support Program moved to the Epilepsy Foundation out of Rockford to better meet the needs of that community.

One of the many challenges that Options & Advocacy faces daily is in accessing state funds for the individuals that we serve. Unfortunately, the state will fund those individuals who meet the state criteria for crisis which is very stringent. Young adults are transitioning from special education to no services at all. Without an increase in our funding – we struggle not only to address the rising cost of doing business but also to provide services to our most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately Illinois is ranked 46th in how it supports persons with disabilities. There is an increasing demand for services, with diminishing resources and competition for public fundraising dollars.

Above and beyond what we are funded for, Options & Advocacy provides other opportunities for our individuals and their families. We have hosted a Parent Conference that provides key educational and support opportunities to our families with well respected experts on a wide range of topics.   We have held Hot Topic Breakfasts for our younger families. We have play groups 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 hold hearing screenings with audiologists from SEDOM for our children who are in early intervention.. Our Sibshops program provides unique and supports for the young siblings of persons with exceptional needs. 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 continue to expand and improve the services that 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