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May 2004Vol. 5, No. 4Shared Family Care

Shared Family Care (SFC) is a child welfare service that places an entire family in the home of a community mentor for approximately 6 months. The mentor provides day-to-day modeling of appropriate parenting and home management skills, and, in essence, "reparents" the parent(s). Through a combination of both in-home and out-of-home care, SFC helps families develop positive networks of community resources and supports without separating children from their parents. A recent article in the Journal of Family Social Work describes SFC programs, summarizes an evaluation of two demonstration projects, and describes challenges and helpful tips for those interested in developing an SFC program in their community.

SFC programs exist across the country and are administered by both private and public child welfare agencies. Although the programs vary somewhat, they share a number of key elements:

  • Mentors. Mentors are carefully screened and receive initial and ongoing training.
  • Matching mentors to clients. Prospective mentors and families meet several times in order to allow both parties to learn more about each other and determine if the match is appropriate.
  • A rights and responsibilities agreement. All members of both families develop and sign a written contract delineating rights and responsibilities of both families, as well as general house rules.
  • Family support team and wraparound services. Families involved in SFC often have multiple needs. A Family Support Team helps the client identify goals, develop service plans, and review progress. Case managers visit families weekly.
  • Aftercare. Due to the relatively short duration of the program, aftercare is critical to provide the family ongoing support and services.

An evaluation of SFC demonstration projects in Colorado and California showed promising results in reducing re-entry into foster care, increasing average monthly income, and increasing independent housing for program graduates. Additionally, although an SFC program can be expensive to develop and maintain, SFC can be more cost-effective than some other types of out-of-home care.

The authors also offer some general tips for developing an SFC program, including assessing community needs, assessing agency capacity, and exploring funding sources.

A copy of this article, "Shared Family Care: Fostering the Whole Family to Promote Safety and Stability" (Journal of Family Social Work, Volume 7(2)) can be obtained online for a fee at

Related Item

The National Abandoned Infants Resource Center offers program, policy, and evaluation resources on SFC on its website (