The Family Finding model
Our purpose in Family Finding is to restore the opportunity to be unconditionally loved, to be accepted and to be safe in a community and a family. - Kevin Campbell
Children are not born and raised in a vacuum; they are connected to a number of people through informal family and social networks. These relationships and supports can be disrupted when a child enters into care and can leave them feeling isolated and lonely. Children who remain in out of home care are more likely to have poorer educational, health and social wellbeing outcomes than their peers (Sawyer, Carbone, Searle & Robinson, 2007; Mekonnen, Noonan & Rubin, 2009; Humphries, 2016).
Family Finding is a model developed by Kevin Campbell and colleagues in the United States and is a process which seeks to connect children with family and other supportive adults who will love and care for them now and across their lifespan.
Family Finding asserts the importance of emotional permanency for children and that stable relationships can provide a sense of security and belonging which builds resilience and coping skills for children and young people, better preparing them for adulthood.
Family Finding encourages practitioners to consider the urgency for children to have a support network and the poor outcomes for children across their life span when they do not.
Central Beliefs of Family Finding
- All children have family members who can be found if we try.
- Children have a right to know the whereabouts and well-being of family members.
- A sense of identity, belonging and being loved unconditionally are essential to a child’s health, development and dignity.
- Connection is a prerequisite to healing.
- Successful support for traumatised children relies on respectful, collaborative engagement with family members.
- Parents and families generally want the best for their children and need connections and supports to be able to provide adequate care for them.
THE SIX GOALS OF THE FAMILY FINDING MODEL
- Support children and young people in Out Of Home Care (OOHC) to develop meaningful and enduring connections with adults who will support them across their lifespan.
- Ensure safe and stable family-based living arrangements where possible. For children and young people in OOHC, ensure a timely and permanent exit from the formal service system through the development of a resilient and comprehensive network of supportive adults.
- Support children and young people develop a healthy sense of identity, regain their dignity and provide family members with the opportunity to meet the needs of those within their family system.
- Enable young adults transitioning from care to live safely and productively within their communities.
- Decrease dependence on the formal service system and enhance family-driven decision making.
- For all individuals, prevent re-entry within and between formal service systems, including “graduation” of young people into the adult correctional systems.
THE SEVEN STEPS FOR FAMILY FINDING
Step 1. Engagement
Family Finding is about engaging children and young people’s parents and/or other important adults to identify a potential network of safe family and community members. Family Finding uses a variety of techniques to identify no fewer than 40 relatives or other meaningful connections for each child or young person. This serves to create a larger group of people from which to form a smaller committed team.
Family Finding does not promote unending and unnecessary searching, rather it recommends caseworkers start with the network of individuals already available and meaningful to the child. Other members can be sought at a later stage. It is also important to identify the key people who can provide family information on each side of a child’s family and go directly to them for information. A number of scripts that can be used in initial conversations with a family are:
- “On the planet, how big is your family?”
- “Who is the lead member on each side of the family who makes it their business to know everyone else’s business?”
There are a series of tools to assist caseworkers in the discovery stage to uncover connections and identify the network of people already existing around a child. These tools include Mobility Mapping and the Connectedness Conversation Tool.
This tool helps children and young people to talk and draw about their life focusing on positive relationships and connections. The main goal is to stimulate the child’s memory in order to uncover clues about missing or hard to find family in a relaxed and informal manner. Typically a large piece of paper is used and the worker asks the child to recall their earliest memory and to draw the first house they remember living in. Next, the worker asks who lived in the house, who was important to them at this time and whether they wish to connect with these people. The worker and child discuss each home the child remembers and the important people in their life. The worker uses prompts to assist recall such as “Who lived near you?”, “Who came over for important events?” This may not always be necessary, for example with young people who can provide names and contact details of their relatives.
Connectedness Conversation Tool
This tool involves drawing concentric circles, asking questions about who and who is not there for children to explore a child or young person’s connectedness (Figure 1).
Step 2. Searching
If engagement strategies have been used but the child or parents still can’t identify family members or other supportive adults, practitioners need to look to other methods of finding family, such as social media or genealogy services.
Step 3. Preparation and Planning
The preparation and planning stage involves a worker’s meeting to reflect on the commitment that the practitioners and other professionals involved in a child’s life have to find family, as well as any foreseeable challenges that may arise when trying to locate family. This assists in planning how to engage and prepare potential family network members to meet as a group. The alignment activity and the blended meetings are activities to help practitioners, family and other network members to think through commitments and challenges.
The Alignment Activity
This activity helps practitioners and their managers create a clear purpose about why the child or young person needs a network. This activity does not involve the family but rather is between staff members. Group supervision sessions provide an excellent opportunity for the Alignment Activity to be completed. It incorporates the following:
- Safety: what are the immediate safety needs of the child or young person?
- Worries/Needs: write a series of statements in relation to your worries for the child or young person and outline what the child needs from the network.
- Commitment scale: the practitioners use a scale to open up conversation about their worries or concerns or the things that may get in the way of their commitment to finding family. If a caseworker is at a “0” this may be due to some serious and legitimate safety concerns about engaging a family member and these need to be explored.
- Therapeutic Support: the caseworker is invited to think about what supports might be needed to effectively nurture the network, for example, education in relation to the children’s behaviours and how to respond appropriately to them.
- Timeframes: In determining how soon a network is needed for the child or young person, practitioners need to consider the life course for the child or young person and their single greatest unmet need; Kevin says this is almost always “unconditional love”.
The purpose of this activity is to allow practitioners time to reflect on their commitment, the urgency for the child and how to be a purposeful facilitator during engagement with the child or young person and their network.
The Blended Perspectives Meeting
The Blended Perspectives meeting is about compelling people to see that this child needs them now and asks them to identify the child’s or young person’s strengths and needs. It normally takes place after initial contact and engagement with family members or other concerned adults. The goal is to get all possible network members thinking similarly about the child or young person’s need for connections. This is achieved by getting the group to develop an unmet needs statement for the child or young person that relates to their need for connection.
The caseworker is doing three things during this meeting:
- Sharing information the network needs to know about the child’s experiences to date and allowing the network time to process what has happened in the past.
- Being clear about any commitments that the network members might make and emphasising that the commitments they make to the child/young person are not time-limited but are for the rest of their lives.
- Modeling their role as facilitator of the network not the “doer of all things”.
No decisions are made in the Blended Perspectives Meeting. This meeting is mainly about compelling the network members to consider whether they are able to commit to being a permanent support for the child or young person. During this stage, caseworkers are honest and explicit about what is expected from each of the network members. It also allows potential network members to reflect on and consider whether they can provide what is needed for the child. Those who are struggling with their own life challenges may decline involvement in the network once they have clear information about the commitment that is required. Kevin Campbell reminds us that it is important to respect these decisions and “honour the nos”.
Step 4. Decision Making
The purpose of the Decision Making Meeting is to develop, with a sense of urgency, a commitment from participants to offer frequent and meaningful support to the child or young person. People attending this meeting are those who stated their commitment in the Blended Perspectives Meeting.
In this meeting, the family develops a plan about what they can offer and their commitments to support the child. The caseworker seeks to understand what the family’s plans are for the child’s safety and future and helps the network to strengthen their relationships with one another.
The style of this meeting is heavily influenced from the processes associated with Family Group Conferencing and involves handing back the decision making to the network. Family Finding encourages caseworkers to reconceptualise their role as “facilitator, catalyst and convenor” of a network rather than the “doer of all things”.
Step 5. Lifetime Network
The Lifetime Network includes those members of the family who have expressed a commitment to supporting the child or young person across their lifespan. This Lifetime Network works as a team to support the immediate and long term need of the child or young person for their safety, emotional permanency, and wellbeing. The Lifetime Network becomes the core planning, doing, and supporting force in the child or young person’s life as well as advocating for the child/young person’s education, health care, and normal community/social experiences.
Case plans are developed and evaluated with family members to ensure that they are realistic, sustainable, and safe.
Step 6. Healing and Development
The caseworker continues to facilitate and provide guidance to the network but the network becomes primarily responsible for delivering the final two stages of the Family Finding model. Meaningful and supportive relationships are critical to protecting and enhancing children’s development and resilience. Children and young people who may be at risk of entering into care, or who may already be in care, must be supported and surrounded by safe relationships and affection. This notion is supported by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which theorises that children must have their basic physical needs met, safety ensured and must be loved and have a sense of belonging before they can gain a sense of purpose, individuality, and realise their potential (Figure 2).
Network members explore with the caseworker, and continue to monitor the options and outcomes of therapeutic treatments available. The healing and development step in Family Finding is expected to be continuously considered and prioritised throughout the child’s life.
Step 7. Permanency
In the Family Finding model, there is a distinction made between what we consider legal permanency and the stability that is provided to a child or young person from having a lifetime network of supportive adults and a sense of belonging. Network members are not solely included based on whether they can provide a permanent home for the child or young person but rather their ability to provide emotional permanency. This involves the network providing support to the legal guardians or carers of the child and the legal guardians/carers welcoming the support the network members offer the child. It is essentially about finding and creating a web of safety, love and stability around a child so they can reach their potential. Family Finding is complete when a young person has established relationships with family members who will support, welcome, and sustain them for a lifetime, and the Lifetime Network has accepted responsibility for continuing permanency efforts.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
The central beliefs and practices of Family Finding can be integrated into safety and risk assessment, child protection case planning, OOHC case planning and leaving care planning. Some of the ways Family Finding can be integrated are:
- Family Finding begins with the first knock on the door. The critical question to ask yourself as a practitioner when first meeting a family is “If I had to arrange a meeting today to plan how best to support the child or young person, who would be the supports I would expect to attend?”
- Be willing to challenge practice traditions: Use reflective practice during group supervision to identify assumptions about family members as well as to explore methods of discovering and engaging family.
- Appreciate the importance of relational permanency: Relational permanency lasts a life time, existing long after FACS involvement with the child/young person ceases. Relational permanency offers stability when all else is changing and can help children build resilience in the face of adversity. Enduring relationships are of crucial importance to children in out of home care, particularly those experiencing placement disruptions.
- Engage the child wherever possible: Use tools such as Mobility Mapping to gain a greater understanding of who the child or young person sees as the important people in their life, both past and present. Develop an ear for the gifts these people have provided to the child or young person’s sense of belonging or values.
- Operate with a sense of urgency: ‘Stand in your authority’- communicate honestly with families about the concerns you have for their children and their need for connection. Connection needs to be viewed as a casework activity that requires urgent attention.
- Reframe your concept of permanency: Consider the long term implications of a child’s isolation from lifelong connections and how connections forged now can ultimately lead to better health and social outcomes for them in later life.
- Redefine your role as convener, facilitator and catalyst of change, not as the ‘doer of all things’: Identify and reflect on the pressures to ‘save everyone’ and consciously redefine your role to your peers, managers and to the families you work with.
To watch Kevin Campbell present the key principles and steps in this model please see some short videos below from the Research to Practice Seminar held on 30 March 2016.
VIDEO: Finding Family https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyIVc_1dQM8
VIDEO: Practice Traditions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8khG1kXTqLU
VIDEOS: The Social Quarantine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ieNuQadl4eU https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dD29RXmpU8
VIDEO: Principles of Family Finding https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHhyJOd9naw
VIDEO: The Seven Steps https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjGBye-RGhE
To learn more about the Family Finding model or the research that underpins it you can visit the following links:
Family Finding website http://www.familyfinding.org/moreaboutfamilyfinding.html
VIDEO: Family Finding stories from Hunter and New England District https://youtu.be/3QzNawW5Ttk
VIDEO: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk
VIDEO: The Lethality of Loneliness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0hxl03JoA0
InBrief: Resilience Series. From the Center on the Developing Child (Harvard University) http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-resilience-series/
Burley, M. & Halpern, M. (2001). Educational Attainment of Foster Youth: Achievement and Graduation Outcomes for Children in State Care. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Humphries, J (2016). Improving educational outcomes for care leavers. Parity 29(1), 33.
Mekonnen, R., Noonan, K & Rubin, D. (2009) Achieving better health care outcomes for children in foster care. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 56. 405-415
Sawyer, M.G., Carbone, J.A., Searle, A.K. & Robinson, P.J. (2007). The Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Adolescents in Home-Based Foster Care. Medical Journal of Australia, 186 (4). 181-184.