Evaluating Family Finding

Over the past 8 years, the child welfare team at Child Trends has conducted numerous evaluations of Family Finding, a relative search and engagement intervention targeted at children in foster care. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-351) recognized the importance of connections between children in foster care and their kin, and Congress authorized $75 million over 5 years for grants to enable states, tribes, and nonprofit organizations to implement programs to increase permanency for children and youth, including relative search and engagement programs such as “intensive family finding.” During the same period, private foundations invested in similar programs and funded research to build the evidence base.

The goal of Family Finding (see model description below), originally designed to serve older youth lingering in foster care, is to find and engage relatives and other kin to provide options for legal and emotional permanency. Originally developed by Kevin Campbell and colleagues in the state of Washington, the model was inspired by the family-tracing techniques used by agencies such as the Red Cross to reunite family members separated by war and natural disasters.

Early non-experimental evaluations of Family Finding yielded promising findings for youth in foster care. More recent findings from rigorous evaluations have been mixed—it is not possible to conclude that Family Finding improves outcomes above and beyond the effects of other available services, or to conclude that it is ineffective. Child Trends’ evaluations of Family Finding in several states found some model components were not fully implemented.

Informed by the previous evaluation’s findings, the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina (CHSNC) enhanced their Family Finding model and expanded the services across the state with funding from a Social Innovation Grant. CHSNC partnered with Child Trends to conduct a formative evaluation of their new model to determine whether and how model fidelity could be attained, and whether consistent implementation with fidelity would result in positive outcomes. The findings suggest efforts to modify and enhance the original model and expand services across North Carolina were successful, and warrant further fidelity testing and evaluation. The methods developed to measure fidelity, and the continuous assessment of findings, provide a strong foundation upon which to continue to model improvements and further expand services. See Child Trends’ report presenting the evaluation’s findings. (When released, the report will be available here: http://www.nationalservice.gov/impact-our-nation/evidence-exchange.)

The Family Finding model

Six stages:

  1. Discover at least 40 family members and important people in the child’s life.
  2. Engage multiple family members and supportive adults through participation in a planning meeting.
  3. Plan for the successful future of the child with the participation of family members.
  4. Make decisions during family meetings that support the child’s legal and emotional permanency.
  5. Evaluate the permanency plans developed.
  6. Provide follow-up supports to ensure the child and family can maintain the permanency plans.

Central beliefs and values:

  • Knowledge of the whereabouts and well-being of family members is a basic human need essential for the restoration of dignity.
  • Children need a sense of belonging and unconditional love for health, growth, and development.
  • Loneliness causes suffering for children in foster care, as they lose contact with family members over time and with multiple placement moves.
  • Even the best treatment modalities will not remedy emotional and behavioral difficulties when children are suffering from loneliness. Connection is a prerequisite to healing.
  • Successful planning for the permanency and support relies on respectful, collaborative engagement with family members.
  • Families, not government or private agencies, take care of children best.
  • All individuals have 100 to 300 family members.
  • Parents need connections and supports to provide adequate care for their children.
  • Parents and families want the best for their children, even when factors interfere with their ability to provide it for them directly.

For more information

Contact Karin Malm at kmalm@childtrends.org or 240-223-9318.

Child Trends reports on Family Finding

A Rigorous Evaluation of Family Finding in North Carolina

Client Voices: Youth, Parent, and Relative Perspectives on Family Finding

Family Finding for Children and Families New to Out-of-Home Care: A Rigorous Evaluation of Family Finding in San Francisco

Family Finding: Does Implementation Differ when Serving Different Child Welfare Populations?