Children’s Place goes beyond borders

By Sean Stillmaker

As the rate of diagnosis for HIV and AIDS has decreased in Chicago, the Children’s Place Association decided to focus their efforts overseas to be more effective.

The Children’s Place Association is a nonprofit organization that, for the past 18 years, has been treating Chicago children and their families who are infected with HIV. When it began, it was the only residential care center for children in the region.

Children’s Place launched an international program last year, utilizing its successful care and treatment model to the children of Haiti and Guyana. These two countries have the second highest infection rate of HIV/AIDS per capita.

The Children’s Place serviced 236 kids in Haiti, and their efforts in Guyana just got underway, said Jennifer Sampson, a Children’s Place spokesperson.

“There are more infected children in Haiti that we serve than here in Chicago,” Sampson said. “For our initial year, this was exactly what we hoped to do.”

The organization’s comprehensive program goes beyond care and treatment for the infected, but provides supplemental services for the affected as well, said Tracy Bank-Geiger, Children’s Place case management supervisor.

“We serve HIV positive individuals and their families, which is something unique from other case management agencies,” Bank-Geiger said.

The Children’s Place family center, 1800 N. Humboldt Blvd., offers individual case management that provides HIV/AIDS care and treatment, mental health programs, an early learning and day care center for kids and community services such as helping obtain affordable housing.

There are 21,367 people in Chicago living with HIV and AIDS, according to a June 2008 study by the Chicago Department of Public Health.

HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. Once infected, the virus begins to multiply and destroy the body’s immune system.

It is not unusual for an HIV-infected person to experience symptoms years after the initial infection; some may be asymptomatic for 10 years. The only way to determine the HIV infection is to be tested. Tests take samples of blood, urine or saliva.

The Children’s Place offers testing for its clients. The majority of the clients are very poor, matriarchal-oriented, single-parent, African-American families.

In a 2008 study done by the Chicago Department of Public Health, African-Americans are the most common race diagnosed with HIV in Chicago at 55.6 percent.

Minority groups make up the West Side neighborhoods of Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Austin, which have the second highest AIDS prevalence rate by community area, according to the study. The upper North Side neighborhoods of Uptown, Lakeview and Edgewater lead in AIDS prevalence rate by community area.

“We developed our family model of care by foremost staying attuned to our clients by learning from families what they need and how their needs may change over time,” said Shaun Lane, Children’s Place chief programming officer.

Currently, the most common need for families is affordable housing assistance. A majority of the client’s income is Social Security insurance with a monthly pay of about $623, Bank-Geiger said.

“If that’s all the family’s income, it’s nearly impossible to rent an apartment in the city of Chicago for that much, especially if there’s children involved,” she said.

The organization helps provide renting assistance and offers three apartment units of housing on its family center site.

The next most-utilized service is the organization’s early learning and day care program. The program allows children infected and affected by HIV in the program. It has a capacity of 60 children, which “is always full,” Sampson said.

Last year, 76 children, ranging from three months to 5 years old, were enrolled in the program; 13 completed it.