Career Meets Calling: Full-time, Professional Foster Parents Keep Siblings Together

What if siblings placed in foster care were never separated and could grow together in the care of full-time, professional Foster Parents?

Photo of Yoona Wagener
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

After World War II, a young Austrian medical student named Hermann Gmeiner saw many children orphaned or abandoned. Often, their siblings were the only family they had left. Gmeiner started the first SOS Children’s Village to keep brothers and sisters together. Today, SOS Children’s Villages International, the parent organization under which SOS Children’s Villages Illinois operates, is the largest non-denominational child welfare agency in the world with over 550 Villages in 133 countries. SOS Children’s Villages Illinois has operated as its own 501(c)(3) since 1993, when the dream of bringing this model to Illinois became a reality with the opening of our first site, our Lockport Village in Lockport, Illinois. We are proud and honored to have the service of many of our very first professional Foster Parents to this day. Today, the organization operates four sites: three Villages providing sibling group foster care at an 18-home Village (opened in 1993) in Lockport, Illinois; a 19-home Village (opened in 2004) in the Auburn Gresham/Englewood neighborhood of Chicago; a 14-home Village (opened in 2014) in the Roosevelt Square Community of Chicago; and Casa Tepeyac (acquired in 2011), a facility that offers preventative and in-home family services in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. Each Village and our continued growth revolves around a commitment to heal, educate, and strengthen children and families, while creating a better and stronger society.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Illinois

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Illinois

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are over 400,000 children living in foster care in the United States. Three out of every four children in foster care are separated from their siblings. Children in traditional foster care often feel tremendous anxiety, grief, and guilt over the loss of their family—not only parents—but brothers and sisters as well. Our focus is providing an alternative: a safe, stable, healing space to keep brothers and sisters together to continue growing as a family.

Our Foster Parents are the very backbone of our model of care. They dispel the notion that being a Foster Parent is just a job; they prove that it’s a calling that requires a true dedication to service and the well-being of children. On a full-time basis and with ongoing training, they raise up to six children (brothers and sisters) in a single-family home in one of our Village communities—where they are supported by a care team of other Foster Parents, Village directors, case workers, and therapists. Their work is beyond measure in terms of responsibility, importance, and impact.

It is our constant goal to bring more exceptional Foster Parents into the SOS Children’s Villages Illinois community. There is no shortage of children and families in need. As we seek to fulfill our mission, it is paramount that we spread awareness about sibling separation in foster care and the solution we provide.

It truly does take a village to raise a child, and we seek dedicated and mission-driven Foster Parents to join our Village and make a difference in the lives of youth in need.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

At the core of what we do is support youth in becoming caring, productive, and self-reliant adults. We want to ensure that they continue on a path of reaching their fullest potential. Anissa’s story is a model of what we hope for every young person who comes to SOS Illinois. After moving from home to home in foster care, without friends or educational stability, she came to SOS Illinois, having recently lost her adoptive mother, angry and hopeless. That changed when her SOS Mom, Ms. Kaye, with the support of the Village community, gained her trust and helped her blossom in her studies and socially. Today, Anissa is an Ivy League student, advocate for youth in foster care, and true inspiration.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2015: we provided 63,591 days of service and 1,526,184 hours of care; served 657 children; served 53 sibling groups; helped 81% of youth who left our care transition to permanency or independence; and celebrated a 100% high school graduation rate with 98% of youth attending 90% or more school days, and 96% of youth in an educational program earning credits, advancing one grade level, or earning a diploma or certificate. As the landscape of foster care continues to shift, both nationally as well as in the state of Illinois, we anticipate greater awareness and emphasis around sibling togetherness in foster care, and an openness to the Village model of care. As that evolution occurs, we will be ready to educate and inform the community, and continue to serve sibling groups in need.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As a contracted foster care service provider by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), approximately 80% of our funding comes from DCFS. This is maintenance funding. The remainder comes from donations by individuals, corporations, and foundations. SOS Illinois will continue to conduct extensive fundraising to provide unrivaled programming and resources for the children who come to our Villages.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

There are organizations that prioritize keeping siblings in care together, but the uniqueness of our model is in the investment our full-time, professional Foster Parents make. In dedication to our mission they uproot their lives to move into one of our Villages and provide 24/7 care for up to six children. In turn, the educational and professional development we invest in our Foster Parents with training, counseling, and a Village of resources and professionals to consult, speaks to the commitment SOS Illinois has in the communities, families, and futures of the children we serve.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

It is vital that children feel a sense of belonging. If they feel they have a sense of place, supported by mentors, educators, parents, or parental figures, they will feel connected to their society. And as a result of being connected, they will want to contribute to and better it. As our CEO Tim McCormick says, “If we prioritize the well-being of our children, ultimately we will have a good and better society.” That is really at the heart of what we seek to do at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois: champion and partake in a community that cares for the safety and betterment of its children.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Twitter

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Melanie Glibert

Program Design Clarity

a) We serve siblings placed in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. b) Our Sibling Foster Care program provides a safe, stable, healing place for brothers and sisters in a single-family home in one of our three Villages, and in the care of a full-time, professionally trained Foster Parent, 24/7. c) We serve 4 Chicago-area neighborhoods on a daily and ongoing basis. d) A care team of Foster Parents, Relief Parents, case managers, therapists, and administrative staff offer comprehensive wrap-around services to ensure each child has a safe space to heal and grow.

Community Leadership

Our mission does not exist without the support of our communities. Each of our Villages was built with significant involvement from community and government leaders and residents in order to best benefit each Village’s surrounding environment. Our Village community centers are open for public use and we are continuously seeking ways to engage with our communities. Building those relationships will continue to be a priority as we grow.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 0-1.5
  • 1.5 -3
  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Great thought has been given to the placement of each of our Villages in relation to the communities they serve. Looking forward to future growth might require redefining what we consider a Village, and opening our model of care to best serve families in need. What will remain is a focus on recruiting committed, full-time, professional Foster Parents. They fulfill our mission to unite siblings and help them reach their fullest potential.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We center care around the children in our Villages; they benefit from the continued stability of being with their siblings in a nurturing, stable, single-family home environment in the care of a full-time, professionally trained Foster Parent. In this setting through educational development, health and wellness activities, and cultural enrichment, each child is encouraged to dream while also learning the value of service and helping others.

Leadership Story

From SOS Children's Villages Illinois CEO Tim McCormick: "In order to truly reshape a child’s life, an element of trust must be placed in the simple belief that the treasures of the human heart are capable of healing and strengthening. What I continue to feel fortunate to witness in our Villages is young people committed to rediscover in themselves their fullest potential. Despite the struggles of the past, I can see the rekindling of something greater in our children’s eyes. I see a spark of real faith that a better and brighter future is both real and achievable. "

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Charity Navigator’s 3-star rating; GuideStar Gold-level nonprofit; Council on Accreditation (C.O.A.) Certified; In 2012, SOS Illinois was recognized by Chicago Magazine as one of 15 charities in the City of Chicago to be awarded “The Gold Standard”; In 2015, named one of 20 top charities in Chicago

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 100%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 40%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 40%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 20%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 20%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 60%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 20%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 60%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 40%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 50%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 50%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Tambra Raye Stevenson

Great job! I just posted in our Facebook group about two foster families who kept siblings together. That's a testimony to work like yours matter!

Photo of Jessie Mandle

This is an amazing model! I would love to learn more about how   you find foster parents, and engage with the surrounding community. Your approach and history are inspiring- thank you!

Photo of Yoona Wagener

Jessie Mandle  Thank you! If you have specific questions, do feel free to reach out to me at the e-mail in my profile. Best of luck to you and congratulations on your great work!