Willowbrook man wins award for foster care

Working in a foster home with children who have assorted mental and medical health conditions can take its toll emotionally, but for every one of those hurdles encountered, Willowbrook resident Ivan Harrison has a memory to reinforce why he loves the work he does.

Harrison has been the foster care manager at Children’s Place Association since 2004. As foster care manager, Harrison makes it his priority to try to find children with varying medical or mental illnesses a home.

“We really try to make sure when making a placement decision that we make a good placement match,” he explained. “When you’re working with our population of kids who have special needs, you have to be careful about who you recruit and place the kids with. Once we get the information about the child, we know what kind of foster home we need to accommodate them with.”

Harrison said the agency originally worked primarily with kids who have HIV/AIDS-infected families, but now the organization has widened and accepted children with varying disorders. Other care goes to children with cerebral palsy, pediatric cancer and severe juvenile diabetes.

“Some of our clients are needy and we have to not only deal with their special needs, but they also have to deal with things like poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and things like that, so it can be emotionally draining at times,” he said. “You also have those positive moments where you work with a family and a child is adopted, or one of your clients graduates and go to college.”

Because many of the children have behavioral or medical conditions, Harrison works closely with schools to make sure the child can thrive.

“We work with the staff and maintain communication with the schools and try and problem-solve,” he said. “We try and do whatever we can to help them achieve their full potential despite any barriers or special needs they might have.”

In recognition of his work, Harrison received the Outstanding Para-Professional Award by Congressman Danny Davis during the 7th Congressional District 15th-annual Recognition Ceremony this summer. He was nominated by one of the foster parents who live in Davis’ district.

Harrison said he was surprised and thankful to the parent when she informed him. Davis couldn’t attend the ceremony because he needed to be in Washington, so Davis’ wife, Vera, presented the award.

“He felt so bad that he wasn’t able to be there that he graciously called in,” Harrison said. “He called his wife and she put him up to the mic so he talked to us from Washington and thanked us for our contributions. ... (For) him to take the time to do that, it was very nice.”