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Q&A: Children's Home & Aid rebrands itself as Brightpoint, pivots to family support, equity focus

Group of adults and children sit on a floor, and high five one another over a board game.
Home visits, such as the one pictured, are part of the family services offered by Brightpoint, a statewide social service agency formerly known as Children's Home & Aid. The organization has been in Bloomington for more than 130 years.

A social service agency with roots in Bloomington-Normal for more than a century has changed its name: Children's Home & Aid now is Brightpoint.

Brightpoint kicked off a rebranding campaign this week in Bloomington. The group is active in nearly 70 Illinois counties, and serves about 30,000 families each year.

Brightpoint headquarters are in Chicago. But it also has four Illinois regions. It's office on State Street in Bloomington is base for the central region. The nonprofit’s CEO and president, Mike Shaver, joined Central Region vice president Mendy Smith in the WGLT studios this week to talk about the changes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

WGLT: Children's Home & Aid has been a big part of this community, as well as around the state. Is it a different organization, or is it the same organization with a new name?

Shaver: This is a pivot for us. For 140 years, we have been solving crises at the point that they're a crisis. Over time, we've understood it is possible to go upstream — to prevent little problems from becoming life altering crises. Brightpoint sort of represents our approach to working with families to do just that — to be that beacon to recognize family is the most important asset for child and family well-being. And while we aren't doing a major disruption in our services, we are going to bring a new kind of focus to our work that puts families at the center of everything we do.

Brightpoint Central Region vice president Mendy Smith.

Smith: We've been working the past year and a half on the vision of where we were moving. The name is important, but it's not the only thing. You know, the logo and everything looks great. But really it is about this transformation on how we see the service that we're doing and how we want to see it in the future, and really partnering with families.

WGLT: What are the services that you do? If you're changing the name to focus on this attention to the moments before a crisis — where intervention can come in, and maybe avoid a child being removed from home — what is it that Brightpoint does?

Smith: Here in Bloomington, and the central counties that surround Bloomington-Normal, we provide home visiting services and a lot of prevention, family support programming.

So, these are programs of working with families. We’re providing knowledge, we're providing additional resources and support to help children and families get off to a great start and throughout childhood. So, we see families prenatally and our doula program all the way through our home visiting and early childhood programming, as well with the Scott Family and Child Center. It's not just one thing, people come to us at different points. And they might use our Crisis Nursery, which is a 24/7 program that provides crisis care, as well as connecting families to resources. So, no matter when they're coming in, we're looking at it as preventive, more proactive. We connect families and listen to their voice on what's going to help them thrive.

Shaver: We look at how we think really, intentionally about 1) moving upstream wherever possible, 2) asking ourselves what are we doing for families to solve the little problems before they become large crises, and 3) doing that with an eye towards equity, an eye towards understanding not all families have access to the resources to be the best parent that they can be?

WGLT: How would a family get connected with Brightpoint?

Smith: Locally, it's a variety of ways. Resources come from everything from one-on-ones, to larger community partnerships. It’s more of what can we provide that maybe is a gap and how we can work with our community partners to fill that gap?

WGLT: Who works for you? What kind of people are involved at Brightpoint?

Smith: In the central region, we have around 130 employees. We have early childhood professionals, social workers. We have behavioral health specialists, volunteers, peer-to-peer mentors. So it's a variety.

WGLT: Would the focus be on the adults, or on the child? Or is it the whole family?

 Mike Shaver headshot
Brightpoint CEO and president Mike Shaver.

Smith: Traditional services years ago, primarily it would be just for the child or just for the parent. That's not the approach that we have, or that we’re going to take. As this transformation is occurring with Brightpoint, we're looking at the family. So whether or not you come in as a student in our early childhood center or a parent in behavioral health, we're looking at that parent-child relationship, the caregivers — the community even at times, on who's working with that family.

Shaver: We wanted to make this announcement here in Bloomington, in the central region, because this is where our parent support work was most developed, where we had the largest footprint on home visiting, and first provided high quality early childhood services for families. The agency’s central region has been building out other primary prevention programs, too.

One of the things that we recognized with the name Children's Home & Aid is that it's hard to present yourself as an organization that has a two-generation approach — if what people hear in your name is "Homes ... for Children," right? That is our legacy, that is our history. But developments in neuropsychology show if you really want to focus on child and family well-being, you really can't do any better than to invest in the family.

Historically, the work we've done over 140 years, too often invested in the crisis side of the work — removing a child from the family. We know that is not a good development for a child. Children who are removed and separated from their parents, face the risk of developmental issues. So we really challenge ourselves to think about what we can do as an organization to put an end to the need for foster care as we know it. That's why Brightpoint was always going to capture that idea better than Children's Home & Aid.

WGLT: As for that idea to "put an end to foster care as we know it." There will always be individual exceptions to that, right — cases where a child's welfare, unfortunately, requires the separation? So is that still part of Brightpoint?

Shaver: It is. And in fact, we're not flipping a switch and walking away from the provision in supporting families who need child welfare services.

But here's what we know: Nationally, about a half million children will sleep in a home that's not their own tonight. In Illinois, that number is close to 20,000 kids. Data shows as many as 60 to 75% of those kids — but for a different set of interventions at the right time — might not have had to enter the foster care system.

Our job is to really find that place. There will always be a need. Families have crises. There are issues that necessitate that removal, for the child's safety. We also aspire that when that happens, we work to accelerate the process. We want to support families in a different way, when they need those supports. So kids spend less time in the foster care system. And if they can't return to their biological family, we want to maintain connections, and find them a different home as soon as possible. So the focus really is thinking about it on both ends.

Brightpoint leaders say as the agency moves into its 141st year, the group wants to build on equity awareness and building access, provide support for children and parents, and connect the families with community resources.

Smith says in central Illinois, this summer community members will see billboards up around town highlighting the Brightpoint rebranding. The group also plans a family block party next month through its early childhood department. Volunteer inquiries should go to Laura Cordero, Brightpoint senior development specialist, at (309) 834-5294.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.