Note: Names and locations have been changed
When children enter their teens, their drive to know who they are and where they come from increases dramatically. Carly is a prime example of a young woman determined to connect with her parents no matter what the consequences.
The teenage Carly was a bit rebellious and was having difficulty in her placements. She had been in and out of the local Safe Center several times during her adolescent years and seemed restless. The case was referred to Family Finding by the Department of Human Services caseworker, with a focus on the paternal side of the family.
In the interim, Carly decided to take matters into her own hands. Having a name and location, she ran away to Idaho to find her biological mother. She was successful. Unfortunately, the experience was less than what she expected and she ended up being restrained and unable to get back home. Her biological mother's lifestyle had not improved much from when Carly was a child when parental rights were terminated. Carly eventually managed to get away and returned home more traumatized than ever.
While this was occurring, the Family Finding volunteer was hard at work investigating the files, researching the paternal side of the family, and making connections. Parental rights for the father had been terminated when Carly was two years old. Dad lost custody to the maternal grandmother and when he was unable to maintain a safe, drug free environment for his children. He had not seen nor heard about Carly since.
The Family Finding volunteer first spoke with Carly's paternal grandmother who filled in the family tree and shared phone numbers and contact information for two sisters and Dad. When the family was contacted, they expressed excitement that Carly had finally been 'found'. However, there was nobody more surprising (or surprised) than Dad. A quiet, reserved kind of man, he spoke at length about how his life was out-of-control when Carly and his other children were born. He admitted mistakes but had made a serious effort to turn his life around which was evidenced by the powerful references provided to the Family Finding volunteer. He was remarried, held a successful job, and led a quiet life in another state.
Although the caseworker was reluctant to proceed with the connection after the profound incident Carly had experienced with her mother, eventually a meeting occurred and Carly was re-connected with her father and the other safe family members who so much wanted her in their lives.
Sara is an almost 21 year old who came into foster care when she was ten years old due to her mother's death from alcoholism. An older brother was unable to care for her because of her high needs. Her father was unknown. She is currently living in an adult foster home as she is developmentally delayed and needs supervision and aid with daily tasks.
Sara’s caseworker referred her for Family Finding as she was about to ‘age out’ of Department of Human Services care and she wanted Sara to be reconnected with supportive family. After making calls, the Family Finding volunteer located and connected with Sara's older brother, James. Due to the possibility of Sara being adopted, contact with James had been halted years ago. Sara ended up not being adopted and had been living in permanent foster care. James told the Family Finder that he thought of Sara constantly over the years but didn't know how to find her.
James shared the names of extended family members and explained that he was married with two young boys of his own. He provided current photos of himself and his family, as well as photos of Sara as a child to the caseworker.
Sara was graduating from her school program and starting work at a local community college's recycling center. The caseworker explained the Family Finding program and about the search for her family members. Sara learned through Family Finding her brother James had been located. She paused and repeated his names a couple of times before shouting "Jimmy?! You found Jimmy?!" She jumped up and down crying and talked about how much she loved him and how sad she was when she was told they couldn't see each other any more because she was going to be adopted. She was worried that James was going to be upset that she was adopted, not realizing that the adoption was never finalized.
When Sara was shown the photos of herself as a baby, she stared at each picture for several minutes, entranced and absorbing the details, pointing out people she recognized. She had never seen a picture of herself as a baby. She immediately asked for a piece of paper and carefully wrote out her entire name, address, and phone numbers for Jimmy, ending it with "I love you."
Sara explained that she never really felt like she belonged with the families that she lived with and always wondered if she had a real family. When she was told that she was an 'Auntie', she flopped down on her bed with amazement. Sara had lots of questions about her mom and other family that she was excited to ask her brother.
Sara was allowed to decide when and where she would be united with her brother. When the caseworker’s visit was finished, Sara approached her, gave her a huge hug saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” before sitting down to examine the pictures again.
Joey & Eric
Consider the case of Joey and Eric, two teenagers who were raised in the foster care system for over 10 years while their family tried desperately to find them.
Joey, now 19, and his brother Eric, soon to be 17, lived in separate foster homes. Joey excelled in school, sports, and life. Eric struggled with anger issues and was moved to several different foster homes.
The case worker referred this case to Family Finding primarily at the request of Joey, who wanted to know his family.
The Family Finding volunteer located family in California, Nevada, and Oklahoma. During the first Family Meeting, family members were so anxious to connect with these young men that they were willing to drive to Oregon immediately just to meet them. An 18 year old sister even offered to be an adoptive placement.
Family members were emotional, excited, and some were even a bit angry that their early efforts to be a resource for the children had been denied. The meeting facilitator was able to direct the meeting in a positive way and the DHS case worker openly shared information about these young men with the family members. A second Family Meeting was scheduled, during which the family was assured that the boys would be in attendance.
When the day for the second Family Meeting occurred, the family called in to the conference line early. Joey (18) was the first to arrive with his foster mom. He quickly became engaged in conversation with family members on the phone. Shortly, Eric (16) arrived with the case worker. From this point forward, the meeting was far from facilitated. The family and boys exchanged memories, they laughed together, and there were emotional moments. The boys were each given access to a computer where they were directed to Facebook and MySpace pages so that they could all see the pictures of each other immediately; they talked about the past, the present, and the future. When Eric was asked about the one thing that he had dreamed about during his growing up years, he steadfastly stated, with a bit of a break in his voice, that 'the one thing he always wanted was to be with family'.
His wish may become reality... the caseworker is currently investigating the possibilities.
A Family For Every Child’s Family Finding Mission is to find safe, loving kith and kin connections for youth in foster care. By discovering such individuals we hope to create a lifelong support system for youth, help children learn about their family and history, and reconnect them with loved ones who can be a part of their “forever family.”
Family Finding History & Philosophy
Family finding’s creator, Kevin Campbell, a vice president at EMQ Children and Family Services, views children who have no family connections like disaster victims: Help is urgently needed and there’s not a moment to waste. He calls them “the loneliest people on Earth.”
In Washington state, where Campbell first developed family finding, 253 out of 288 troubled children moved in with relatives within a six-month period in 2003. And the movement is growing. Campbell visits as many as 10 cities a week, from Hollywood to New York City, teaching social workers to track down kin.
“This is one of the most exciting and innovative approaches in reconnecting children and family that I’ve seen in 30 years,” said Professor Gerald P. Mallon of the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York, a national expert on creating permanent family ties for foster children.
It begins with a hunt for names in case files, then specially crafted Internet searches that can last less than a half-hour. Once family members are located, social workers try to ease them into taking responsibility for their lost children through carefully scripted letters and calls.
They also ask for names of other relatives and dates of family reunions. Campbell urges social workers not to stop until they have found at least 40 family members for every child. Some find as many as 300.
“My mission is to make sure families know where their kids are, and kids know where their families are,” said Campbell, 41, from the headquarters of EMQ, a non-profit community agency. “We should never raise a child in the public system who all along had a family who we didn’t call.”
The premise of his program is so simple, longtime child advocates wonder why it’s taken so long for someone to think of it.
It’s widely known that children do better with their families than in group care or temporary foster homes. But many social service departments fail to revisit, or search beyond, parents who in most cases are drug-addicted, mentally ill or in prison.
Convinced of the importance of kin, California is one of only two states that pays relatives to be foster parents. Santa Clara County has an entire unit devoted to relatives, with 44 percent of foster youth now living with kin.
But too many of the half-million children in foster care nationwide have no lasting bonds.
Core Beliefs of the National Family Finding Model
- Every child has a family.
- Loneliness can be devastating, and particularly felt by foster children.
- Meaningful connections to family help children develop a sense of belonging.
- The single most identified factor contributing to positive outcomes for children involves meaningful connections and lifelong relationships with family.
We have a number of Family Finding volunteer opportunities. Finding volunteers must fill out a volunteer application, attend a Family Finding training, and pass a criminal background check. Family Finding Volunteers and Staff follow the six steps to Family Finding .
The Six Steps to Family Finding
Step 1: Discovery
Goal: Create more plans for support and planning.
Practice: Identify at least 40 family members connected to the youth. Connect with adults who have been key supporters of the child or parents. Success is achieved when the family is extensively known.
Step 2: Engagement
Goal: Engage individuals who know the child best or have had an historic connection to the youth.
Practice: Through the use of individualized engagement strategies engage individuals who love the child and enlist their support. Prepare family members for the possibility of working with the child’s case staff to make plans around the child’s needs.
Step 3: Planning
Goal:Hold meetings with kith and kin connections, case staff, and those who love the youth in order to plan for the successful future of the child.
Practice: Bring identified family members and others who care about the child together to learn more about the young person’s essential, lifelong need for support and connection. Participants should be allowed a voice in the process. Challenges will be identified and solutions created. Planning will be done on a “plans fail, our children do not” mentality.
Step 4: Decision Making
Goal: The team with the social worker will make timely decisions that provide the young persons with appropriate levels of affection and belonging that are expected to be enduring.
Practice: The team involved in planning will work with a sense of urgency. The team will be prepared to make informed decisions about the future of the young person and the expected consequences of not having a safe, forever family. The team will be prepared to make key decisions about the future of the child, including their safety, physical and emotional well-being, and belonging in a lifetime family. Teams will meet with the understanding that long term placements without legal permanency is not considered a permanent option
Step 5: Evaluation
Goal: Create an inclusive, individualized, and unconditional plan to achieve legal and emotional permanency has been created with a timeline for completion.
Practice: The team has successfully “foreseen” the liklehood that their plans are safe, stable, and lasting. Adults caring for the child have adequate and lasting support and key relationships for the child will continue.
Step 6: Follow Up
Goal: The team will have supported the child or young person and their family to plan for and access essential formal and informal support.
Practice: The team will actively support children, young people, and caregivers to successfully access services, supports, and key relationships. Teams will emphasize natural and community supports that are most normative and enduring.
How we Help
A Family For Every Child’s Family Finding program finds and engages relatives and kith connections of children who are languishing in the child welfare system or at risk of entering foster care. This is a community based program which serves the goal of the new federal and state mandate, SB 964 of Strengthening, Preserving, and Reunifying families, and can successfully assist Oregon in implementing differential response methods for both front end and back end cases.
AFFEC conducts the following for each Family Finding case:
- Data Mining: Speaking with case staff about relatives who are currently involved, gathering information on legal fathers, gathering contact information for important kith and kin connections.
- Internet Research: Search online databases, websites, and social media for relatives’ current contact information and more biological connections, as well as important kith connections such as past teachers, neighbors, and babysitters.
- Calling and Engagement: Representatives phone connections in order to determine who is committed to the child(ren), and who may be invited to a family meeting. They also gather family tree information, discuss family history, and ask about other relatives who may want to be involved.
Once the previous tasks have been completed, AFFEC holds a meeting with the child(ren)’s caseworker in order to determine what relatives should be invited to a Family Meeting, at which the caseworker, family members, and AFFEC staff discuss the child’s need for placement and permanency. Solutions are created in order to meet the child’s needs, and family members/kith connections are asked to commit to plans that serve the child. This includes (but is not limited to) placement, visits, writing letters, sending pictures, and more. These Family Meetings allow the relatives, kith connections, and case staff to collaborate on plans on how to best support the child.
Follow up Family Meetings are facilitated by AFFEC as needed. AFFEC conducts follow up for at least a year for each Family Finding case.
If you would like to refer a case to our Family Finding program for a child on your caseload, please complete our referral form. If your organization is interested in having AFFEC conduct Family Finding for children and families you are working with on a regular basis, please email the Permanency Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our offices, (541) 343-2856.
Family Finding National Partnership Program
Many youth have grown up in foster care without the love and support of their biological family and past connections, not because their families stopped loving them, but because all ties were cut the moment they entered care. Numerous children leave the foster care system without knowing their kin, and without anywhere to go, or anyone to turn to. Help a foster child find a family, gain a support system, and grow up to be a successful adult by starting a Family Finding program in your area
Family Finding is a process created by Kevin Campbell that reconnects children with family members and other lost loves ones with the purpose of supporting youth in foster care. This “support” can be demonstrated in a number of ways, including placement, respite care, visitation, knowledge, and support post foster care. Through the use of Family Finding, foster youth not only are reconnected with healthy contacts, but have the opportunity to learn about their roots. It has been shown that foster youth who know their family tend to be healthier and happier, and are more likely to be successful once they leave the foster care system. By engaging positive relatives, friends, and community members, foster children are given a support team that goes beyond their foster parents and case staff.
A Family For Every Child would like to help you start a Family Finding program in your area. We will provide the following assistance for agencies working with “at risk” youth:
- Training Materials on Family Finding
- Screening and eligibility of Volunteers (if you choose to use volunteers)
- Tools for measuring success
- Elements of effective practice
- Assistance in developing a financial plan
- Promotion of your program
- Sustaining the program
- Building relationships with the Department of Human Services and community partners
If you choose to use volunteers in the Family Finding process, the community becomes more deeply involved and more child welfare cases can receive Family Finding Services. Volunteers are able to further engage community groups and others, which is able to then expand an organization’s resources and span of influence. If you do not use volunteers, we are still more than willing to offer our assistance.
Family in 30 Days
Family in 30 Days is a program based on the tenants of Family Finding – that every child has a family and that children thrive when placed with family members rather than with non-relative care givers. The purpose of this program is to place children with relatives within 30 days of entering foster care. This is done through extensive search methods which include direct engagement with family members and kith connections to identify as many possible relative placements as possible. When children stay with family members they are more likely to stay in the same school, live with their siblings, have fewer behavioral problems, and report that they “always felt loved.”
Who would Benefit from Family in 30 Days?
Children at risk of entering foster care would be clear beneficiaries of such a program. Studies show that children living with relatives:
- Are less likely to experience placement changes
- Are more likely to report “always feeling loved.”
- Are more likely to live with their siblings
- Are less likely to run away
- Are less likely to change schools
- Are less likely to re-enter foster care
- Are more likely to report wanting their current home to be their permanent home
Furthermore, Family in 30 Days helps keep children out of foster care, or in care for shorter periods of time. This is an unequivocal benefit to the state.
Why Family in 30 Days?
Studies show that children experience less disruption, emotional turmoil, and are more likely to feel loved if they are living with a family member. This program also increases the child’s chances if reunification, and decreases the likelihood of them entering foster care. The program will be considered successful if 70% of cases result in a child finding a safe, loving, relative placement within 30 days, and 90% of cases identifying a safe, loving relative placement within 90 days.
Extensive Team Recruitment
Extensive Team Recruitment combines our efforts towards mentorship, Family Finding, recruitment, and child preparation. It is based off of the Extreme Recruitment model created by the Foster and Adoptive Coalition in Missouri. The Extensive Team Recruitment method was built upon the proven Family Finding model created by Kevin Campbell, with the goal of finding a forever family for every child. Extensive Team Recruitment would function under the tenet that every child deserves a forever family, and that through providing a mentor, Family Finding, recruitment tools, and child preparation, we can find and support that forever family.
How Does Extensive Team Recruitment work?
The Extensive Team Recruitment process begins with the referral of a child’s case from the Department of Human Services to A Family For Every Child (AFFEC). AFFEC staff then begin the Family Finding process, and search for relatives, lost loved ones, and community members and groups that are important to the child. A mentor is assigned to the child; mentors can be family members, school staff, former foster parents, or other members of the community who want to assist said child. The mentor and other community members (teachers, coaches, members of the child’s faith community, etc.) become a part of the Extensive Team Recruitment process, and are engaged in weekly meetings pertaining to the child’s case plan. This ensures that the community is supporting the child; the more community members involved in the decision making process, the more solid all case plans (including the back-up plans) are, and the greater the guarantee that the child will find a stable, loving forever home.
Why Do It?
By participating in Extensive Team Recruitment, we can reduce the number of children in foster care and find a caring forever home for all Lane County kids. The more community groups and members involved, the stronger the program becomes, and more support is available for each child. By involving key community groups, we can ensure that every child receives a mentor, that all possible family is found, that their educational staff is aware and involved, that members of their place of worship can support them, and that we help each child and our community grow as a whole.