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Community Support Services: Creating Circles of Support In Illinois

By Elizabeth Sites, CQL Director of Organizational Excellence

Providing quality services for more than 500 people across multiple counties presents its own obstacles, but especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be especially challenging. I have found Community Support Services, Inc. (CSS) to be responsive and innovative despite the pandemic, continuing to deliver solid supports that promote respect, independence, inclusion, and overall quality of life.

Community Support Services, Inc. is dedicated to ‘creating a circle of support for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families’ and it’s clear that this principle carries through to the actual supports and services that they provide.

“We look forward to continuing to develop our positive relationships with people on an individual basis while recognizing, appreciating, and supporting their own personal outcomes.”

Jennifer Schindl, Community Support Services, Inc.

As I started working with Community Support Services, Inc. throughout their pursuit of CQL Accreditation, there were specific examples of how their mission, vision, and values are reflected in their services. This is an organization that is very self-aware of its strengths and its areas of opportunity. Organizational staff are committed to providing positive supports for each person in a very individualized manner. Families, staff, and people receiving services feel a sense of camaraderie that is not always seen at other organizations the way it is at Community Support Services, Inc.

About Community Support Services (CSS)

Community Support Services (CSS) was founded in 1981 by a visionary group of parents, educators, and community leaders. Today, CSS provides services for hundreds of children, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families across 51 communities in Western Cook and Eastern DuPage counties in Illinois.

Logo of Community Support Services (CSS)

They offer a wide range of programs including residential and independent living supports, respite services, supported employment initiatives, professional training activities, and more. All of these programs and services are built off of the foundation of their mission and its related principles.

Community Support Services’ Quality Assurances Accreditation

Accreditation through CQL requires a lot of work, and one characteristic of their organization is how prepared they are and how hard they work. As you’ll read later, Community Support Services, Inc. devoted a significant amount of time and organizational resources to work through the Basic Assurances® (BA) and the BA Self-Assessment, establishing various teams to spark dialogue about the 10 BA Factors. Along with how exciting it is to see an organization embrace the accreditation process with that level of dedication, it also helped position them well when the actual accreditation visit occurred.

This level of commitment was consistent during all components of CQL Accreditation – including focus groups, Personal Outcome Measures® interviews, virtual visits where people receive services, discussions with organizational leadership, and more. Even though the entire accreditation was completed virtually, the passion that the CSS staff have for what they do could be felt. Everyone that was a part of this accreditation process was engaged, transparent, and excited to learn new ways to enhance quality.

Following this rigorous process, I was honored to officially recognize Community Support Services, Inc. with the achievement of CQL Quality Assurances Accreditation on March 5, 2021. Along with the privilege of being able to work with the organization during their accreditation, on a more personal note, I really value the connections I was able to make with organizational leadership, staff, and people receiving services.

Deeper Insight Into Community Support Services

Along with us describing our relationship with Community Support Services, Inc. we also wanted to offer the perspective of those who work at the organization. We reached out to Jennifer Schindl, Vice President of Programs, Community Support Services, Inc., to share more information about their agency, their commitment to quality, and their experiences with accreditation. This is what Jennifer had to say in response to some questions we asked.

What organizational practices and developments are you most proud of?

There are several things that we have improved upon that make us proud. We have a 95% satisfaction rate among people we support and their families. We feel this is tied to our strong program team that collaborates, shares ideas, and looks for best practices and ways to improve. We had great feedback from direct support professionals (DSPs) and frontline supervisors in focus groups, showing that we have an organizational culture that is friendly, supportive, and open.

In 2020, while successfully navigating the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, CSS reorganized and streamlined some of our program operations. We were also able to keep people and staff remarkably engaged, safe, and healthy.

Our development team has also secured several thousand dollars in donations to make improvements to the indoor and outdoor living spaces of the homes where we provide services. The updates include new kitchens, bathrooms, patio furniture couches, dining tables, etc.

In addition, we recently replaced an outdated case management and billing system with a new online system, developed by MediSked, that is used by staff throughout the organization – providing real time information and data.

What are your goals as an organization?

CSS strives to be a leader in the human services field for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and the preferred provider for people and families when choosing their services. Our mission is to promote independence and participation in the community and we hope for strategic growth and continued alignment with our mission.

We are constantly evaluating all of our programs and making adjustments as warranted. We continue to consider new programming opportunities in order to expand services and meet the needs and interests of the people we support.

“CQL is known for being a model of best practices and quality improvement. CSS appreciates how CQL has been bringing a new standard of quality to the State of Illinois.”

Jennifer Schindl, Community Support Services, Inc.

Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?

CSS was looking for an accreditation process that would be supportive rather than punitive, with a partnership that will provide guidance and resources. CQL is known for being a model of best practices and quality improvement. CSS appreciates how CQL has been bringing a new standard of quality to the State of Illinois. We look forward to being on the front end of that process, and always on top of emerging national best practices in person-centered excellence.

How did you prepare for your CQL Accreditation?

We met with a peer organization who had recently gone through CQL Accreditation for the first time and they described their positive experience. We gained the support of our Board of Directors and internal Management Team. Once we officially made the decision to pursue CQL Accreditation, we started discussing each of the Basic Assurances® (BA) Factors with our Management and Program Teams.

After completing the Request for Engagement form, our teams started having focus groups to discuss the items on the BA Self-Assessment and had great conversations. We felt we were very honest about our strengths and opportunities for improvement. We were then ready to have the conversations again once CQL’s Director of Organizational Excellence Elizabeth Sites and Quality Enhancement Specialist Ann Eller, joined in.

What is the impact of accreditation on your organization as a whole?

The impact of CQL Accreditation is already being felt. Everyone who participated in the process – whether through conversations during the BA Self-Assessment period, in focus groups, or during Personal Outcome Measures® interviews – has understood that we all play a role in providing the best possible supports. Staff will continue to challenge each other to foster independence and personal growth.

“It was great to meet and chat with CQL. I enjoyed sharing my experiences at CSS with them as well. I think it was a great experience to go through.”

Leslie, a person receiving services through CSS

What is the impact of accreditation on people you support?

We expect the impact on people we support to be great. The BA Self-Assessment and overall accreditation process has already caused us to realize where we can promote greater independence and enhance community activities and relationships. We look forward to continuing to develop our positive relationships with people on an individual basis while recognizing, appreciating, and supporting their own personal outcomes.

How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?

We are looking forward to an ongoing partnership of support, transparency, and resources to assist CSS as we continue to develop more robust programs and services. We appreciate the support that CQL has already given us as we strive for best practices and more individualized services, which will be an ongoing effort.

We are so happy to have the support of CQL’s staff, resources, and training. Just knowing we have someone we can call or connect with when we have questions is amazing.

Have questions about CQL Accreditation?

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.