Care ideas for autistic children   SOS effort: Organization considers setting up live-in program

Copyright Copley Press January 31, 2004
      By Andrea Hein  STAFF WRITER

 LOCKPORT — SOS Children's Village executives are considering a program to care  for autistic children as part of the organization's new initiative for increased  community involvement.

 "Right now, no one is serving that population," said Robert Ochenkowski, chief  executive officer of SOS Children's Villages Illinois.

 The nonprofit foster-care organization provides a permanent home for children who  cannot return to their biological parents and have little chance of being adopted with  their brothers and sisters.

 SOS differs from other child welfare agencies in that it specializes in keeping siblings  together under one roof.

 Ochenkowski said SOS village administrators are aware that several autistic children  live in the Lockport area, but the nearest residential facilities that provide the required  care are far away like Rockford.

 "It's a shame people would have to drive 3 1/2 hours one way," Ochenkowski said.

 SOS staff members are looking into the possibility of setting up a live-in program  and, maybe later, short-term care.

 "At times, families just need a respite," Ochenkowski said.

 But the logistics of providing the specialized care have not been worked out. Right  now, the SOS board of directors is merely looking at the program's feasibility.

 "We are exploring our options," Ochenkowski said.

 The village is also expected to increase its capabilities to take on more foster children  this year.

 The Lockport foster-care facility currently has 58 children living in 11 homes.

 This spring, administrators expect to complete construction on six additional houses  that can accommodate an additional 36 children.

 And the children's village is partnering with a second nonprofit group — called  KaBoom! — to build a playground.

 KaBoom! partners with corporations to build play places in underserved areas.

 "It's a very exciting project," Ochenkowski said.

 The purpose for all the new programs and facilities is to create stronger bonds  between the village and the Lockport area.

 "We are starting the process of becoming more and more involved in the Lockport  community itself," Ochenkowski said.