“We’re here for the families” inside family advocacy at UICS

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Steve Archer is the proud dad of Ezekiel (4) and Israel (3) at UICS-North Center, and knows that when his family needs support, UICS and its family advocates have a plan.

“We’re getting a head start on the things our kids need,” Steve said.

Steve’s children are adopted. He did not immediately know some of the challenges they would face or the additional support his children would need outside of the classroom. Steve turned to the family advocate at UICS North Center, Valerie Archer (no relation to Steve).

“We didn’t know what resources they needed,” Steve said. “Valerie shepherded us to the right people.”

Valerie put together a student success plan to make sure Ezekiel can thrive, while developing the skills he needs to work through his emotions.

Ezekiel (4) and Israel (3) Archer. These photos were submitted by their dad, Steve Archer.

“My four-year-old has some big feelings, but I know the adults there are taking care of him and looking out for his best interests.”

This level of communication and proactiveness isn’t typical. Steve took his son’s student success plan to his pediatrician so they were better informed for his check-up.

“She commented on how impressed she was that the school was proactive in developing that plan,” he said. “She said preschools don’t usually take the lead on that.”

Steve knows his family’s advocates are their problem-solving partners. Valerie notes, ”Clear communication and a strong relationship is fundamental in advocating for families such as the Archers.”

“They need those supports, they still need to know that someone cares enough about their kid to commit to them,” Valerie said. “I would go to the mat for that kid.”

Family advocacy is a branch of UICS’ mission that promotes growth for the whole family, as well as our little learners. The advocates start with a family assessment at the beginning of the school year. They set goals, help families obtain resources, and at the end of the year, do another assessment to see where they stand.

Here’s a list of areas advocates have assisted families in the past:

  • Housing Assistance
  • Utilities Assistance
  • Food Insecurity
  • Employment
  • Clothing
  • Diapers
  • Toiletries
  • Cleaning
  • Medicaid and healthcare
  • Kindergarten readiness
  • Enrollment
  • Disability support
  • Holiday gifts
  • Mental health services
  • Transportation

“Anything you can think of, we can try and help,” said Matrika Hornsby, an advocate for UICS-Metro Center.

The UICS system is based on teamwork to support families, and the relationships between teachers and family advocates is crucial. Matrika has seen both sides of this relationship. She was a St. Mark Center teacher for 5 years.

“When I was a teacher, if there were families that I didn’t understand or I wasn’t sure how to help, I knew the family advocates could help them,” Matrika said.

“Family advocacy is about being an ally for families and giving them support and teaching them how to be advocates for themselves,” said Danielle Jeffrie, who also has experience in classrooms. “Hopefully what the families’ experienced during their time here will help them to be better equipped.”

Danielle is UICS’ newest advocate. In her previous positions, she’s seen how game-changing it is when families know what resources are available in their own communities. She has only been with UICS for a month and is learning from Vicki Lockett at UICS-St.Mark Center. Vicki has been with UICS for 22 years.

“I love what I do. I love hearing success stories. I get former students who don’t want their kids to go anywhere else,” Vicki said.

Ms. Vicki is a professional connector. She has a wealth of success stories, big and small. One of her families calls her “aunty,” even though their kids have grown up. She has families dropping by just to check in.

She says that her families struggle the most with housing. She had a family who’s little learners’ suddenly stopped coming to class. She conducted a home visit and learned that the mom had lost her job and their home. Vicki connected her to unemployment benefits and housing assistance, and set goals for her to return to school. She went back to school, earned a law degree and now owns a successful law firm, all because she utilized the resources she didn’t know were there. With Vicki’s help, she met her goals and her children thrived at UICS again.

These advocates are connectors between their families’ strengths and what is possible. They empower families to go after what they want in life and find them resources to get them there. When you’re not preoccupied with your family’s basic needs, you can focus on what your family wants and enjoy watching your children succeed.