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September/October 2001Vol. 2, No. 5Mentors Share Homes, Teach Life Skills to At-Risk Families

An innovative twist on out-of-home care places not only children but also their parents in the household of a "host" family trained to provide mentoring and support.

"Shared Family Care," modeled after Scandinavian child welfare services, debuted in Minnesota and Philadelphia more than a decade ago. Shared Family Care programs also operate in several counties in California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center (AIA) currently is evaluating the programs in California and Colorado.

The model aims to preserve, empower, and reunify families. In some cases, parents ultimately decide to release their children for adoption.

Shared Family Care can be court mandated, but most clients volunteer to participate. They are often referred by family reunification/preservation services, community based organizations, or drug treatment programs. AIA has found that successful clients typically are motivated to make changes, admit their mistakes, and show concern about and enjoy their children.

So far, client families have primarily been single mothers with young children, but two-parent families and single fathers with children also have participated.

Participating parents retain primary responsibility for their children, including arranging for child care and purchasing and preparing food. Besides housing a family, mentors teach and model effective parenting and living skills. A family support team (including the mentor, a social worker, counselors, and others) provides case management and helps the client develop a plan to live independently.

AIA has found that many mentors are single women who have raised families of their own. A matching process allows the mentors to meet families a few times before making a commitment to take them in for a period of 6-12 months. Mentors come from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. AIA reports that successful mentors

  • Like living with others
  • Demonstrate a commitment to their community
  • Are straightforward
  • Are flexible but able to set boundaries
  • Like children
  • Are willing to accept training.

AIA's recent evaluation of the demonstration sites in Northern California and Colorado found that to date:

  • Approximately 150 families were referred to 4 programs
  • 69 families were placed with mentors
  • 37 graduated successfully (completed placement goals and/or voluntarily relinquished parental rights), equaling a 63 percent "success" rate
  • 22 terminated
  • 10 are currently in placement
  • The average length of stay was 8 months.

Also, participating families achieved gains in income that enabled them to live independently.

Costs for Shared Family Care compare favorably with foster care. AIA reports that in the California counties, the approximate costs for a family of three for an average 9.5 month placement is $16,000 (excluding administrative overhead and start-up costs). Basic foster care for a California family of three for an average 15 month placement is approximately $34,000.

For technical assistance, research, and evaluation information regarding Shared Family Care, contact:

Amy Price, MPA
Associate Director
National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center
University of California, Berkeley
School of Social Welfare
1950 Addison St., Suite 104
Berkeley, CA 94704
Phone: 510-643-8390
Fax: 510-643-7019