Program

May 23, 2017

OVERVIEW

Family Finding (FF) aims to help children, adolescents, and youth in foster care reestablish family connections before they age out of foster care.  FF uses a six-step process to identify family members and other adults close to foster care children, increase the children’s sense of family connectedness, and involve these adults in developing and carrying out a plan for emotional and legal permanency.  An experimental evaluation with the key measures of discharge from foster care to positive permanency and placement with relatives at the close of FF, or at end of study period, whichever came first, found no significant differences in placement and permanency for those in the overall treatment group, compared with those in the control group. However, among children new to care at baseline, there was a trend whereby treatment children were more likely to be placed with relatives at discharge, compared with controls.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: Youth aging out of foster care

Family Finding (FF) is intended to help youth aging out of foster care avoid negative outcomes such as homelessness, failure to graduate high school, unemployment, poor health and involvement in the criminal justice system, as well as significant challenges in the areas of mental health, education, and employment and finances, by reestablishing family connections. Because many youth who leave foster care often look to return to their birth families, reestablishing family connections for youth before they exit out of foster care may be a strong and positive service the child welfare system can offer.

FF utilizes intensive search and engagement techniques to identify family members and other adults close to a child in foster care. The aim is to increase the youth’s sense of family connectedness and involve these adults in developing and carrying out a plan for the emotional and legal permanency of the child. Developed by Kevin Campbell, the FF model is built on the belief that the extended family is an untapped resource for the child during a time of crisis and involvement with the foster care system. Campbell’s family finding model has six steps.  The first step is discovery, in which intensive investigative methods are used to discover at least 40 family members and fictive kin (e.g., people identified as being important to the child who are not blood relatives).  Next is engagement, which involves engaging as many appropriate connections as possible to commit to a relationship with the child and to assist in case planning for the child.  The third step is planning meetings, which aim to involve the family in meetings to discuss their role and to plan for the successful future of the child.  The fourth step consists of decision-making meetings that are professionally facilitated and family-directed, and that aim to support the legal and emotional permanency of the child.  The next to last step is evaluation, in which the permanency plan(s) developed in the meetings for the child are evaluated.  The sixth and last step is follow-up, which provides follow-up services to ensure that the child and family are fully supported.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Garwood, M. M., Williams, S. C. (2015). Differing effects of family finding service on permanency and family connectedness for children new to versus lingering in the foster care system.  Journal of Public Child Welfare, 00, 1-19.

Evaluated Population: A total of 174 children participated in the study.

Of those participating in the study, 48.3 percent were male and 51.7 percent were female, 88.4 percent were non-Hispanic African American, 9.3 percent were non-Hispanic white, and 2.3 percent were Hispanic.  For 64.6 percent of the sample the case plan at the start of FF was reunification, for 22.0 percent the plan was adoption, for 18.3 the plan was long-term foster care, for 12.2 percent the plan transfer of guardianship, and for the remainder had plans for placement with a relative, independent living, or termination of parental rights.  At the time of study enrollment, 69.5 percent were placed in foster homes, 14.9 percent in group homes, 6.9 percent in institutions, 4.6 percent in kinship care, and 4.0 percent in pre-adoptive homes.  The average age at study enrollment was 9.4 years and the average length of time in care was 13.9 months.

Approach: During the 3-year study period, a total of 174 children were randomly assigned, with slightly more children in the control group than treatment group. A total of 83 children were randomly assigned to receive the family finding intervention. Overall, in both treatment and control groups, 96 children were identified as NTC and 78 were LIC.

To determine eligibility for random assignment, administrative data from the state automated child welfare information system (SACWIS) was vetted to identify children who within the past three to six months had entered out-of-home care and lacked a viable plan of reunification or adoption (referred to as the new-to care or NTC group),  and children who remained in care beyond Adoption Safe Families Act (ASFA) limits (16 or more months) because of a “stalled” permanency plan (referred to as the lingering-in-care or LIC group). The LIC group focused on, but was not exclusive to, youth ages 9 to 14 years. The pool was further winnowed by identifying those children who were not in a relative placement, not in a pre-adoptive home, and were not away without leave. From this larger list, approximately 10 names for each one opening in a FFS caseload were randomly drawn using a computer generated randomization program. Assignment was initially done using a one to one ratio. The NTC and LIC groups were randomly assigned in separate iterations. To avoid situations in which children in a sibling group are assigned to different conditions, random assignment was done by case. When the FFS had an opening on their caseload, the on-site evaluator would randomly assign the appropriate number of cases from the pool.

Children were randomly assigned to a treatment group or a control group. Children in the treatment group received intensive family finding services (Campbell’s six-step model) from a designated family finding specialist (FFS) employed by the private child welfare agency. Partway through the evaluation, the experimental design was modified because the local child welfare agency requested additional referrals to the program. To compensate for issues arising from this, the control group would be overpopulated so that for every round of random assignment, one case was chosen for the treatment group, and two cases were chosen for the control group.

Children in the control group received traditional services (“business as usual”), which included minimal relative search and engagement, from their ongoing case manager at the private child welfare agency that was contracted by the state to provide child welfare services. Traditional services include relative search/identification and planning activities that are similar to those provided by FFS, but not as intense or thorough. All FFSs had prior child welfare experience ranging from work with independent living programs to ongoing case management, and educational backgrounds ranged from social work certification to a master’s in social work degree. Initial FFS were trained by Kevin Campbell, in how to implement the family finding six-step model. Staff hired after the study began were trained by the program coordinator. Ongoing telephone consultation with Kevin Campbell occurred throughout the project to ensure fidelity to the model.

The goal of the study was to examine the impact of family finding services on the family placement and permanency of youth in foster care, and whether the timing of the intervention made a difference in the impacts of the outcomes. The key experimental measures examined for this study were discharge from foster care to “positive” permanency and placement with relatives at the close of family finding, or at end of study period, whichever came first. Outcomes of interest included placement with family members, exiting care to a “positive” permanent placement (i.e., reunification, transfer guardianship, or adoption), and differential impacts for youth who are new to care versus those who have been lingering in care. The program was intended to be an intense, short-term intervention, and cases were served on average of five to six months.

Two primary data sources were used to examine FF outcomes: SACWIS data and family finding case management data. Administrative data was gathered from the SACWIS system, for those who received family finding services (via referral or randomly assigned to a treatment group) and the control group at the end of the study period. Data points included all placement setting/types, date placement began/ended, permanency plan/goal, concurrent permanency plan/goal, and permanency type and date of permanency (if achieved). Additional data on the treatment group only were collected for descriptive analyses, and included connections identified, interactions with these connections, meetings held, and plans made for the child. FFS entered data on a regular, ongoing basis.

On average, children in the treatment group were served by the FFS for 6.4 months, ranging from 0 months to 22 months.  Data were collected at baseline and again at either case closure or the end of the study period, whichever came first.

Among the entire experimental sample, there were significant differences between the treatment and control group in terms of case plan goal at referral. Those in the treatment group were significantly more likely to have a permanency goal of transfer of guardianship than those in the control group (18 percent versus 7 percent). A larger share of control children had a case plan goal of placement with relative than those in the treatment group (7 percent versus 1 percent).

Results: The experimental analysis compared differences between treatment and control children in three different groups: the entire sample, the NTC group, and the LIC group.

Children in the treatment group were not significantly more likely than children in the control group (27 percent versus 20 percent) to discharge to positive permanency at the close of the family finding case. There was a trend toward more children in the family finding services treatment group being placed with relatives than children in the control group (16 percent versus 7 percent). When the NTC group and LIC groups were examined separately, this trend continued for the NTC group, but no significant trends toward differences were found in the LIC group.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Reference

Garwood, M. M., Williams, S. C. (2015). Differing effects of family finding service on permanency and family connectedness for children new to versus lingering in the foster care system.  Journal of Public Child Welfare, 00, 1-19.

KEYWORDS: Children (3-11), Adolescents (12-17), Youth (16+), Males and Females (Co-ed), High-Risk, Parent or Family Component, Parent-Child Relationship

Program information last updated on 5/23/2017.

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