Healthy Families Illinois (HFI) is a voluntary home visiting program, funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), and implemented in over 50 community agencies across the state.
Initiated in Illinois in 1995, HFI is modeled after the Healthy Families America initiative, which is a national program model designed to strengthen family functioning and improve parent-child interaction through voluntary, intensive home visiting to
families at risk for problems in parenting, including child abuse and neglect.
The goals of Healthy Families programs include:
- Promoting positive parenting
- Enhancing child health and development
- Preventing child abuse and neglect
HFI services operate in accordance with a set of critical elements for service delivery (See Table 1: Prevent Child Abuse America,
2001). In day-to-day terms, HFI programs offer screening, assessment, and home visiting services to at-risk families. The intensity of service delivery is adjusted to match each family's need for support. In 2004, HFI programs provided
58,628 home visits to 3,846 families (IDHS, 2004).
Home visiting staff, referred to as family support workers, include a mixture of paraprofessionals (46%) and professionals (54%; IDHS, 2004).
During home visits, support workers provide supportive services focused on promoting positive parent-child interactions, child development, family functioning, self sufficiency, and meeting basic needs (i.e., food, clothing, and housing).
"My support worker is the nicest lady I know. She does everything in her power to help me. I appreciate everything that she does." - quote from an HFI parent
In collaboration with IDHS, the Ounce of Prevention Fund provides a training institute for all HFI staff. Trainings are offered throughout the year in both Chicago and Springfield.
Topics range from week-long core training for new HFI support workers to a leadership institute focused on supporting continued growth and development of HFI's administrative and supervisory professionals.
Among the many topics covered by the training institute, HFI staff members receive thorough training in child abuse recognition and response, as well as procedures for conducting developmental and family assessments.
Across its 10 years of operation, HFI has developed an extensive infrastructure to support optimal functioning of its programs. The HFI Executive Committee serves as the governing body and its members represent all aspects of HFI services.
HFI also sponsors a Program, Training, and Research Committee that meets quarterly to discuss emerging issues in research, training, and program operations. In addition, HFI programs serving common geographic regions meet quarterly to share
information, training opportunities, and provide support to programs at the local level.
The HFI infrastructure also includes a Public Awareness Committee, as well as a Policy and Advocacy Committee, to support initiatives related to public education and long range planning.
Table 1: Healthy Families: Critical Elements
- Initiate services prenatally or at birth.
- Use of standardized (i.e., consistent for all families) assessment tool to systematically identify families who are most in need of services.
- Offer services voluntarily and use positive, persistent outreach efforts to build family trust.
- Offer services intensively (i.e., at least once a week with well-defined criteria for increasing or decreasing intensity of service) and over the long term (i.e., 3-5 years).
- Services should be culturally competent.
- Services focus on supporting parents, the parent-child interactions, and child development.
- At a minimum, all families should be linked to a medical provider to assure optimal health and development. As needed, support linkages to other services (e.g., financial, food, housing assistance).
- Services should be provided by staff with limited caseloads to assure that home visitors have an adequate amount of time to spend with each family to meet their unique and varying needs.
- Service providers should be selected because of their personal characteristics (i.e., nonjudgmental, compassionate, etc), their willingness to work with culturally diverse communities, and other relevant skills.
- Service providers should have a framework, based upon education and experience, for handling the variety of experiences they may encounter when working with at-risk families.
- Service providers should receive intensive training specific to their role to understand the essential components of family assessment and home visitation.
- Service providers should receive ongoing, effective supervision so that they are able to create realistic and effective plans to empower families to meet their objectives.