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Search Helps Improve Lives Across Illinois Through High-Quality Services

By Kendra Julius, CQL Quality Enhancement Specialist

Whether it’s creating a positive culture, helping people build natural supports, implementing strong systems, or investing in training, Search is committed to being a premiere human services provider in Illinois. During their most recent accreditation visit, my colleague Ann Eller and I were able to see the impact they’re having on people for ourselves!

During our visits where people receive services, we observed so many examples of people living meaningful and fulfilling lives of their choosing. One person we met talked about their job at a department store, describing it with so much passion and excitement. We chatted with one man who Search supports to ‘deck the halls’ year-round with Christmas decorations, because of his love for the holidays. We encountered a group that meets twice a week to talk through self-advocacy, raising awareness about a variety of topics that really make a difference.

And along with what we experienced through site visits, we also learned a whole lot more directly from stakeholders. We held a series of separate focus groups with people receiving services, direct support professionals (DSPs), and frontline supervisors. There were a number of recurring themes that stuck out to us: an inclusive and welcoming environment, an appreciation for support staff, an emphasis on dignity and respect, and prioritizing community connections. Search is working to provide the very best services and that didn’t get lost on focus group participants!

The organization’s pursuit of moving itself forward is tied to its decades-long history in the disability services sector. From grassroots beginnings to their expansion of services over the years, Search is continually looking to improve upon its important work.

About Search

Search is a community-based human services organization that offers programs to more than 350 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. They provide a wide range of services involving supported living, health and wellness, adult learning, employment, and more. Search makes a positive impact on people spanning different parts of Illinois, from the southwest side of Chicago to the northern suburbs of Skokie, Morton Grove, and Mount Prospect.

Organizational logo for Search Inc. with tagline Live, Learn, Work, Play

Founded in 1968 by a grassroots movement of parents, Search has a rich history starting out as a service provider for children with disabilities. The organization later grew to include services for adults with disabilities. Today, their mission is to “empower individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential, accept a valued role in their community and lead rich, rewarding lives.”

Quality Assurances Accreditation Awarded To Search!

The organization’s recent achievement of accreditation isn’t its first. Search has maintained CQL Accreditation since November 2016. In that time, the agency has been continually improving. That’s exactly what we like to see at CQL – a commitment to ongoing organizational transformation!

That unwavering dedication is what helped Search propel forward to attaining its third term of Quality Assurances Accreditation in October 2022. All of us at CQL are so appreciative of the organization’s hard work involving their accreditation. We know it’s not an easy undertaking, which is why it’s so important to congratulate all of our partners in making these achievements!

And as you’ll learn next, Search has taken specific steps involving capacity-building, utilizing data, implementing person-centered practices, and more to better support people with disabilities who receive their services in Illinois.

More About Search And Their Partnership With CQL

We wanted to share with you a deeper understanding of Search, their concerted effort to improve quality, and their experiences with accreditation. To do so, we contacted Cory Gumm, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer. Cory was kind enough to answer a number of questions we had about the agency and their partnership with CQL.

What are some notable changes you’ve experienced over the last several years?

Like many organizations, Search experienced significant impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including $3.1 million in lost revenue, a reduction in our workforce of 63 positions, and 54% loss in program enrollments. Since January 2020, our top priorities have been to preserve program quality, ensure mission sustainability over the long term, and position Search for a new and better day. This entailed the implementation of a head-to-toe organizational restructure of our management and support structures throughout the organization.

Together, we weathered the pandemic while retaining the core capacity necessary not only to recover, but to strengthen our mission impact moving forward.

How do you measure quality at your organization?

Search is a data-driven organization. Each year, Search goes through a process called Quality Enhancement Planning (QEP). QEP at Search is a comprehensive, agency-wide process for making continuous improvements to the services and supports we provide. The process involves a diverse group of stakeholders, including the people we serve, their families and friends, community employers, and other community partners, as well as leadership and staff members from all levels of the organization.

Our goals build upon the success of previous years and allow us to continuously develop our programs and services. Our goals this current fiscal year focus on the priorities communicated to us by all of our stakeholders including Search leadership, Direct Support Professionals, and the people and families Search supports. These goals are detailed in our full FY23 QEP plan.

All QEP goals are organized around the CQL Basic Assurances®, which are essential, fundamental, and non-negotiable requirements for all service and support providers. These are guiding principles for our team here at Search.

Additionally, Search utilizes monthly management reporting to ensure transparency and alignment throughout the entire organization. Search relies heavily on feedback and satisfaction data collected from many different stakeholder groups, including staff members, people supported, and our communities of service at large. Data is collected through many formats including focus groups, questionnaires, and individual interviews. This data directly informs our strategy and decision making.

An example of a change that we have made as a result of measuring quality is included below.

Goal: Utilized staff satisfaction and feedback data to prioritize implementing a DEI program at Search (United Front and Blue Tower Solutions programs were utilized).

Result: In FY 23, 41 staff participated in 11 United Front watch parties, and three quarterly group meetings to discuss DEI issues. Five staff and five participants went through Blue Tower Solutions’ program “It Starts with Saying Hi!” to become trainers in DEI. Since this initiative’s inception, we have seen steady improvement in staff satisfaction in the areas of professional development, equity, and opportunities to learn and grow on the job.

Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?

Search is committed to a process of continuous quality improvement and consistently improving person-centeredness. The recent pandemic has provided a fresh perspective on the evolution of supports for people with disabilities. Following Search’s CQL Accreditation in 2019, the organization has continued to engage in a variety of alignment activities to enhance services in the areas of rights, respect, health, and positive supports. The accreditation process was instrumental in helping to focus and prioritize our limited resources in areas of importance to the people we support.

How have the Personal Outcome Measures® affected person-centeredness at your organization?

Following Search’s initial accreditation with CQL, the organization committed to implementing the Personal Outcome Measures® interview process with 15% of people in our Supported Living Program on an annual basis. As of June 30, 2022, we completed five full years of this activity.

A close-up photo of a black man smiling while holding an orange pumpkin outside at a pumpkin farm.

Personal Outcome Measures® have had a profound impact on person-centeredness at Search. Information gleaned from Personal Outcome Measures® is used in two ways.

First, it is used on an individual basis, in coordination with Person Centered Planning process, to learn more about the individual and to prioritize services and supports for the year ahead in areas that matter most to the person served.

Second, it used on an organizational basis, in coordination with Annual Quality Enhancement Planning (QEP). Data from all Personal Outcome Measures® interviews from the prior year is reviewed in aggregate and trends are reviewed and discussed in the context of developing organizational and programmatic priorities for the year ahead.

What are your goals as an organization?

Search makes a promise to each person we support to provide exceptional services and truly memorable experiences that inspire and empower. This is exemplified by our vision of a world where all people live, learn, work and play alongside one another, bringing their unique abilities to the community.

Over the past several years prior to the pandemic, our goals have centered on building community partnerships, both formal and informal, that provide opportunities for people to participate fully in the life of the community. The benefits of embracing our community roots have been many.

Two people standing in a banquet hall selling T-Shirts next to a T-Shirt displayed on a mannequin.

In the area of employment, we have been able to steer our services and supports away from 14(c) sub-minimum wage work towards expanded opportunities for people to work in competitive, integrated settings. We’ve also focused on expanding opportunities for people experiencing and performing different roles in their communities through a number of community education and advocacy initiatives.

This includes opportunities for people to mentor and teach students through a partnership between our Visibility Arts program and City Elementary Chicago, and train people with disabilities of all ages on how to take public transportation through a partnership with Pace Suburban Bus.

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.