When Tamara Guy and her husband, Mark, adopted their first child, Tamara thought she knew how to get the best help for their new baby, who had special needs. A veteran employee of the Illinois child welfare system, she felt ready to navigate the state’s sprawling network of nonprofit agencies. But she now sees that she was as unprepared as the clients she serves.

“Every agency you work with has its own mission and philosophy, and every agency pushes its programs on you,” says Guy. “I know a...

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