Experimental Research On Family Finding and Engagement
Methods: The study used a randomized design in which children entering foster care were assigned to an experimental group (intensive family finding) or control group (standard case management). Family finding used a wide range of search strategies to locate family and kin; engaged an extensive family team for each child; convened frequent family team meetings; and worked toward kin-focused permanency plans. The project was implemented in two regions comprising 24 counties within a Midwestern state. In this state all foster care placements are arranged by one contracted entity, which allowed for a standardized randomization procedure. Specific exclusion criteria were established to avoid selection bias, and children were only excluded from the study if they met one of the following conditions: left at a hospital through Safe Haven; placement request cancelled by the public agency; psychiatrist documented that the program would be detrimental to the child’s well-being; reunification planned within 2-3 months; or a sibling was previously assigned to the control group (siblings were kept in the same group). Only two children were excluded. The total sample included 124 in the experimental group and 125 in the control group. The primary outcome variable was permanent placement with family/kin.
Results: Independent samples t-tests found significant differences at the .001 level between the experimental and control groups on the number of family members contacted and involved in permanency planning, and the number of family team meetings convened on behalf of the child. This indicated that the two conditions were using distinctly different permanency planning processes and that the family finding project was implemented in accordance with the model. Outcome data found a significant difference at the .01 level between the experimental and control groups on the development of kin-focused permanency plans and on the achievement of permanent placement with family or kin, including reunification and kin adoption.
Implications: The data provide support for the importance of actively engaging a range of family and kin in order to expedite permanency for children in foster care. Authors will discuss successful strategies for implementing intensive family finding.