Family Finding

About This Program

Target Population: Children and youth (birth through young adulthood), who have been disconnected from their families by virtue of placement outside of their home, community, and kinship network.

For children/adolescents ages: 0 – 21

For parents/caregivers of children ages: 0 – 21

Program Overview

The Family Finding model establishes a lifetime network of support for children and youth who are disconnected or at risk of disconnection through placement outside of their home and community. The process identifies family members and other supportive adults, estranged from or unknown to the child, especially those who are willing to become permanent connections for him/her. The program also keeps contact with the youth on a weekly basis who are provided with an update on progress, assessed for support and safety needs, and consulted about key decisions where appropriate.

Upon completion of the process, youth have a range of commitments from adults who are able to provide permanency, sustainable relationships within a kinship system, and support in the transition to adulthood and beyond. Keeping safety at the forefront and using a family-driven process, families are empowered to formulate highly realistic and sustainable plans to meet the long-term needs of children and youth. Child outcomes may include increased reunification rates, improved well-being, greater placement stability, transition out of the child welfare system, decreased re-entry rates, and stronger sense of belonging for children.

Program Goals

The goals of the Family Finding model are to:

  • Support foster youth to develop meaningful and enduring connections with adults who will support them across their lifespan.
  • Ensure safe and stable family-based living arrangements for all youth with dependency needs. For youth in out-of-home care due to protection needs, ensure a timely and permanent exit from the formal service system through the development of a resilient and comprehensive network of supportive adults.
  • Support youth in developing a healthy sense of identity and regain dignity as well as providing family members with the opportunity to meet the needs within their family system. Enable young adults emerging from care to live safely and productively within their communities.
  • For individuals with lifetime care needs, increase connectedness, decrease dependence on the formal service system, and enhance family-driven decision making.
  • For all individuals, prevent recidivism within or between formal service systems, including prevention of youth "graduation" into the adult correctional system.

Logic Model

The program representative did not provide information about a Logic Model for Family Finding.

Essential Components

The essential elements of the Family Finding model include:

  • Urgency: Family Finding views meaningful, supportive, permanent relationships with loving adults to be an essential need that is closely tied to youth safety. Family Finding asks practitioners to urgently pursue these relationships for lonely youth by assertively engaging family and strongly challenging the structural barriers to developing or strengthening these relationships.
  • Expanded definition of permanency: Although physical legal permanence is an explicit outcome for most cases, Family Finding defines permanency as a state of permanent belonging, which includes knowledge of personal history and identity, as well as a range of involved and supportive adults rather than just one legal resource.
  • Effective relative search: Family Finding employs a variety of effective and immediate techniques to identify no fewer than 40 relatives or other meaningful connections for each youth.
  • Family-driven processes: Family Finding recognizes that families are disempowered by the placement of relative children outside of the family system, and it seeks to remediate that harm through identifying the strengths and assets of each family member and facilitating processes through which families are able to effectively support their relative children.
  • Development of multiple plans: The Family Finding process will result in not just one plan for legal permanency, but multiple plans that are each able to meet the needs of disconnected youth. No fewer than three plans, per identified need, are developed and evaluated by family members to ensure that they are realistic, sustainable, and safe.
  • Well-defined and tactical procedures: Family Finding is organized into a preliminary process and six well-defined steps, each with a variety of tasks and activities that flow into one another. While it is a strongly values-based model, it also has clear and definable goals and activities that are easily tracked with a fidelity tool. The six steps include:
    • Discovery
    • Engagement
    • Planning
    • Decision Making
    • Evaluation
    • Follow-up on Supports
  • Family Finding addresses racial disparities in the child welfare system through prioritizing permanent connectedness with families and the inclusion of the family throughout the process. This prioritization hopes to reduce the disproportionate amount of minorities, especially African Americans, in the child welfare system by employing the social capital particularly present within minority communities as a valuable resource for establishing permanency.

Program Delivery

Child/Adolescent Services

Family Finding directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:

  • In the child welfare system, exposed to chronic trauma resulting in any of the following possible conditions: mood disorders; externalizing disorders; posttraumatic stress disorder; developmental trauma disorder; aggressive, self-harming or risk taking behaviors; as well as lifelong difficulties trusting and attaching to adults.
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:

This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: The primary focus of the practice is to engage family support systems as well as other supportive adults with a wide variety of connection to youth, including: fictive kin, coaches, teachers, faith leaders, and individuals throughout the youth's community who are invested in the long-term well-being of the youth.

Parent/Caregiver Services

Family Finding directly provides services to parents/caregivers and addresses the following:

  • Lacking extended family supports, have a child involved in the child welfare system.

Recommended Intensity:

The program is an intervention that should progress quickly. It is expected that case workers will make contact with key stakeholders and family members at least two to three times per month. Youth who are actively involved with their own program intervention should be contacted once per week and be provided with an update on progress, assessed for support and safety needs, and consulted about key decisions where appropriate.

Recommended Duration:

The program is typically applied at or before entry into a dependency system or after a child or youth has been in the system for an extended period of time. The recommended duration of intervention is different depending upon these circumstances. For families who have recently entered the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, or who are at imminent risk for the placement of their child or youth, service duration of not longer than 120 days is recommended. For youth who have been disconnected for a significant period of time, including those freed for adoption, the recommended duration is 6-8 months.

Delivery Settings

This program is typically conducted in a(n):

  • Adoptive Home
  • Birth Family Home
  • Foster / Kinship Care
  • Community-based Agency / Organization / Provider
  • Group or Residential Care


This program does not include a homework component.

Resources Needed to Run Program

The typical resources for implementing the program are:

Access to training in the model; access to the Internet for online searches; access to remote conferencing technology (Skype, for example) for communication with family members who may be geographically dispersed.

Manuals and Training

Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications

The model can effectively be implemented by professionals and para-professionals with a variety of educational backgrounds. Critical skills and experiences include having:

  • Knowledge of the child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, or developmental disability service systems
  • An understanding of the local policy underpinnings of permanency work
  • Strength and comfort communicating across cultures

For supervisors of the practice, it is necessary to have the ability to coach staff and engage with those above and below them in organizational hierarchies.

Manual Information

There is a manual that describes how to deliver this program.

Training Information

There is training available for this program.

Training Contacts:
Training Type/Location:

Typically onsite, though regional trainings may be arranged given adequate local demand.

Number of days/hours:

6 days for full training as well as regular phone consultation and support during a six-month training period. Consultation may continue after six months as needed. One to two-day training is also available as an introduction to the model.

Additional Resources:

There currently are additional qualified resources for training:

Qualified trainers are associated with the National Institute for Family Finding and Permanency and include the developer, Kevin Campbell.

Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research

Leon, S. C., Saucedo, D. J., & Jachymiak, K. (2016). Keeping it in the family: The impact of a Family Finding intervention on placement, permanency, and well-being outcomes. Children and Youth Services Review, 70, 163–170.

Type of Study: Pretest–posttest study with a nonequivalent control group (Quasi-experimental)
Number of Participants: 458


  • Age — 6–13 years (Mean=9.97 years)
  • Race/Ethnicity — 61% African American, 16% Latino, and 14% Multi-ethnic
  • Gender — 52% Female
  • Status — Participants were children and adolescents between the ages of 6–13 years, entering the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Cook and Will Counties.

Location/Institution: Cook and Will Counties, Illinois

Summary: (To include basic study design, measures, results, and notable limitations)
The purpose of the study was to compare the outcomes of a front-end Family Finding intervention among 6–13-year-old children in foster care in Cook County Illinois. Participants were assigned to either Family Finding or a comparison group. Measures utilized include information from the Illinois DCFS Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (SACWIS) database to collect data on the child's demographics and family, the Kin Identification and Level of Engagement (KILE) Form, the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS), and placement and time in care was determined using the Child and Youth Centered Information System (CYCIS) and the Management Accounting and Reporting System (MARS). Results indicate that there were no differences between Family Finding and comparison group on reunification rates, placement stability, or on longitudinal externalizing behavior and internalizing symptoms. However, Family Finding found close to 75% more relatives than the control group, and many of these relatives were significant figures in the children's lives. Family Finding was also associated with a higher proportion of relative placements to total placements for a subgroup of children with five or more placements. Further, the effect of Family Finding on this proportion (relative placements to total placements) was mediated by the greater number of relatives found in the intervention. Finally, Family Finding was associated with relatively better Concurrent Planning. Limitations include the study design was quasi-experimental, therefore, evaluation results cannot be causally attributed to the intervention, evaluation does not include follow-up beyond children's time in care, and evaluation did not examine some of the outcomes explored in other Family Finding evaluations, such as probability of maltreatment re-allegation, step-down from congregate care, and likelihood of material hardship.

Length of controlled postintervention follow-up: None.

Additional References

Allen, T., Malm, K., Williams, S. C., & Ellis, R. (2011). Piecing together the puzzle: Tips and techniques for effective discovery in Family Finding. Child Trends Research Brief, Publication #2011-31.

Children's Defense Fund. (2010). Promising approaches in child welfare:
Helping connect children and youth in foster care to permanent family and relationships through Family Finding and Engagement.

Wakcher, S. (2010). San Bernardino County's California Permanency for Youth Project evaluation. San Bernardino County Children and Family Services.

Contact Information

Kevin Campbell
Agency/Affiliation: Pale Blue
Phone: (267) 214-4551
Elizabeth Wendel
Agency/Affiliation: Pale Blue
Phone: (267) 214-4551

Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: August 2023

Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: October 2017

Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: May 2012