Evaluation of Los Angeles County’s Upfront Family Finding Program | Phase 2

Nationally, more than 250,000 children enter foster care each year as the result of abuse or neglect, and more than 400,000 children and youth are in out-of-home care at any time (U.S. DHHS, 2020). Over the past decades, child welfare agencies have strived to identify and engage relatives with whom children can be placed or maintain close connections during and after their time in foster care. Previous research has found that, while in foster care, children placed with relatives experience greater placement stability and have better mental health and behavioral outcomes than children placed with non-relatives (Winokur et al, 2018). Additionally, children placed with relatives continue to reach permanency (reunification, guardianship, or adoption) and have lower rates of re-entry than children placed with non-relatives (Winokur et al, 2018, Wheeler & Vollet, 2017). Many agencies, including Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), have implemented relative search and engagement programs, known as “family finding,” to strengthen children’s family connections and to enhance the likelihood that children can live with kin when they are unable to remain at home.

Before implementing the Upfront Family Finding (UFF) program, DCFS focused its family finding efforts on children who had been in care for long periods of time. With UFF, which started in October 2016 in two local “pilot” offices (Glendora and Santa Fe Springs) and has now expanded to 10 offices, specialized workers in the Permanency Partners Program (P3) conduct family finding when children are first removed from their home. P3 workers serve children not initially placed with relatives, but the importance of finding and engaging relatives for placement and other supports for all children is emphasized to all staff in the offices implementing UFF. In 2018, Child Trends completed Phase 1 of the UFF evaluation in the two pilot offices and found that UFF resulted in increased relative placements, although findings related to the stability of relative placements and timely reunification were mixed. In 2020, Child Trends completed Phase 2 of the evaluation to analyze longer-term outcomes for children placed with relatives in the pilot offices and to examine the program’s implementation and outputs as well as short-term outcomes for children in the six UFF “expansion” offices that began implementing the program in 2019.1 This report summarizes the findings from the Phase 2 evaluation.