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IDOC Hosts First Corrections Wellness for Families Course

ILLINOIS, March 25 - First State Correctional Agency in Nation to Extend Wellness Program to Family Members of Frontline Employees


[Carterville, IL] - On Friday, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) hosted its first 'Corrections Wellness for Families' class for adult family members of frontline employees in the southern region of Illinois. IDOC's Staff Wellness Response Team (SWRT) presented the course to the family members from seven correctional facilities, who spent the day at John A. Logan College navigating how corrections work realities can impact family life alongside Greg Korando from Menard Correctional Center and James Hayes from Robinson Correctional Center. The course marks the first time a state correctional agency in the United States extended a staff wellness program to family members of frontline employees.


After the course, one participant said, "Correctional Family Wellness brings education on a very specific and real level. Something a family can visualize, hear, and integrate into their understanding. Also, something that prompts that family member to consider how they can best communicate and love this person. Awareness of the correctional work many families have long been estranged from. The Correctional Family Wellness training is a way of saying - you are no longer an ‘outsider', we are doing this together."


Another course participant said, "I wish Correctional Family Wellness existed 23 years ago! As the wife of someone who has been in corrections on both the security and non-security sides, I believe this class is invaluable for family members of loved ones who work in all areas of IDOC. This is the first time in 23 years I feel like I have some sort of viable understanding of the toll corrections takes on a person and his/her family members. I am also reassured that my experience, as the wife of a corrections employee, is not necessarily uncommon. I now know there is support, access to resources, and have been given valuable tools to better support my husband, our children, and myself. I also feel relieved to have finally experienced a means of demystifying and pulling back the curtain on some aspects of corrections. This course is taking a huge step in the right direction for all of us! I only wish I could have sat through this when my husband was hired."


Last week while announcing the launch of the program for correctional families, IDOC Acting Director Hughes said, "IDOC is thrilled to expand its wellness program to encompass the families of our dedicated correctional staff. Together, we are strengthening support beyond the workplace, recognizing the unique challenges correctional families face and their vital role in the well-being and success of our staff."


IDOC Staff Wellness Coordinator Jonathan Brown said, "Recognizing the immense value of support between staff and their loved ones, I believe this course is an essential addition to our program. This course will provide invaluable insight to family members, enabling them to grasp the experiences of correctional staff within our department. We hope family members will be better equipped to offer informed support to their loved ones and staff will learn to integrate familial support into their lives."


The 4-hour proprietary course, 'Correctional Family Wellness - For Families' presented information to adult family members about how correctional work realities can impact family life with suggestions for dealing with scenarios commonly experienced by correctional families. The interactive course is designed for adult family members of seasoned correctional employees and family members of new staff. Course topics covered the impact of the corrections work environment on employees, practical suggestions for adult correctional family members to support one another, managing job stress when it intrudes on home life, and the basics of effective self-care.


IDOC's SWRT will also begin offering a new 6-hour proprietary course ‘Correctional Family Wellness - For Staff' for new and seasoned correctional staff of all disciplines and job roles. This course builds on current SWRT courses, presenting staff with an overview of potential negative impacts on family members due to lifestyle changes and negative behavioral changes that a loved one working in correctional settings may undergo. The course also presents the fundamentals of effective strategies for addressing these challenges and introduces the basics of positive practices for family care and emotional closeness.


Expanding the family dynamic into wellness programming is part of IDOC's continued efforts to emphasize the importance of self-care and develop a departmental culture that demonstrates staff wellness. In 2017, IDOC began planning a program to promote staff well-being, which later became the Staff Wellness Response Team. SWRT's leadership, which includes line staff of various job titles, facilities, backgrounds, and experience levels, reached out to correctional departments in other states, first responders, law enforcement agencies, and mental health providers to learn about the successes and barriers to staff wellness initiatives to develop a framework for IDOC. Subsequently, IDOC created a full-time Staff Wellness Coordinator position to expand this progress into a sustainable and robust staff wellness initiative.


Currently, SWRT has 200 members throughout IDOC facilities along with three Staff Wellness Regional Coordinators to address the mental and emotional needs of staff. This highly trained team assists facilities following critical incidents and offers peer support through confidential referrals to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and AFSCME's Personal Support Program (PSP). SWRT offers ‘Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment', a 10-hour voluntary course that analyzes the causes and signs of corrections fatigue and provides strategies for professional fulfillment and self-care, to current IDOC staff members and all incoming cadet classes. In FY22, SWRT developed and began hosting ‘All Things You' wellness days at facilities featuring training focused on the eight dimensions of wellness for all staff members. In FY23, SWRT completed more than 10,000 peer-to-peer check-ins statewide and established staff wellness rooms at all IDOC facilities. These rooms provide a private area for staff to decompress after a critical incident, along with materials and resources beneficial to mental and emotional health. Last year, SWRT also launched a staff wellness podcast for IDOC staff, producing and publishing eight episodes with retirees, frontline staff, and executive staff as guests.


Adult family member of IDOC frontline staff who are interested in participating in a future class can submit a form of interest or reach out to the Staff Wellness Response Team at doc.staffwellnessresponseteam@illinois.gov.