The Family Finding model, developed by Kevin Campbell, offers methods and strategies to locate and engage relatives of children living in out of home care.
The goal of family finding is to provide each child with the life long connections that only a family can offer. Core beliefs inherent in this approach are:
Every child has a family and every effort should be made to keep the child within the family.
Loneliness can be devastating and particularly felt by foster children.
Meaningful connections to family help a child develop a sense of belonging.
The most common factors in positive outcomes are meaningful connections and relationships with family.
Judges and child welfare professionals need to know about Family Finding and they need to encourage the child protection system to use family finding whenever possible and as early as possible in the court process — preferably at the time of removal. One of the most difficult problems in child protection proceedings is finding the right placement for a child. Sadly, too many children end up in foster care. This is unfortunate, because the law favors placement with family members. The situation facing many is that family members have not been identified and foster care becomes a necessary fall-back option.
Judges and child welfare administrators can make a difference on this issue. First, the agency and the courts need to be aggressive in identifying, locating and engaging fathers. Many in the child protection system seem to work primarily with mothers rather than fathers. Yet fathers can be a significant resource for the child, the agency and the court. First, the father may be a possible placement. Second, the father’s side of the family will, on average, consist of one-half of the child’s relatives. This means the court and agency should insist that steps are taken immediately to identify and locate the father (or potential fathers) and give them notice of the legal proceedings. The agency must be prepared to provide testing to determine paternity at agency expense, and, where appropriate, the court should appoint counsel to help the father participate in the legal proceedings.
In addition, the court and agency should identify extended family from both sides of the family; the mother’s and the father’s. Again, to reduce trauma to the child, this should be done from the start of the case. The court can ensure this practice is embedded into the dependency process by asking at the initial shelter care hearing about the steps that have been taken to identify extended family members.
Family members should be invited to attend court proceedings so they can be identified, their wishes can be known, the possibility of placement can be explored and they can be included in any Family Group Decision Making meetings. These meetings engage family members, significant people in the child’s life and professionals in an effort to find solutions to the concerns facing the child. It is recognized best practice. Moreover, if extended family members are identified, there is a greater likelihood that the family will be able to take responsibility for the placement and care of the child.