With her warm voice and infectious laugh, Gloria Cunningham jokes about being one of the first therapeutic foster parents to welcome a fourth child into her home. “I got a reputation to keep up here.” Ms. Gloria, as she is affectionately known, joined Lutheran Social Services of Illinois’s Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) program as it was launching in 2017. She had spent her career as a CNA, and as she retired she wanted to take all her caring and passion to help children with high behavioral or mental health needs. She embodies the TFC model with great enthusiasm and skill.
The TFC program is an evidence-based treatment program where children are matched, one at a time, with a highly trained therapeutic foster parent. The foster parents and TFC team deliver intensive individualized intervention focused on developing pro-social behaviors in the home, school, and community, with the goal of moving each child into the carefully chosen and prepared aftercare family within 9–12 months of treatment.
Welcoming a crying child with an “It’s going to be okay” and a quick hug, Ms. Gloria sets the stage for a safe, nurturing, and structured environment. Defiance, rage, destructiveness, and suicidality are some of the behaviors that Ms. Gloria has agreed to work on with the child. She engages and draws kids in using whatever interests them the most, from shopping, cooking, puzzles, visits to the park, and playing ball, the child is not able to resist her welcoming and comforting presence. She sets clear expectations, coaches the child around meeting those expectations, and sticks to what she has laid out, all with a gentle laugh and lots of praise for their accomplishments.
As children finish the program and join their family, she lets them know that she will always be there for them and makes good on this promise with calls and check-ins. Foster parents like Ms. Gloria are the key to the success of each child and the TFC program. LSSI is so proud to have her as part of our team.