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May 2011Vol. 12, No. 4Combining Family Finding and Kinship Support Services

This is one of three articles in this issue about agencies that received a Children's Bureau Family Connection grant in 2009 to help children in foster care reconnect with family members.

Lilliput Children's Services was supporting kinship caregivers long before 2007 when the agency received a California State grant to provide these services in Sacramento and two other counties. When the Children's Bureau Family Connection grant program offered the opportunity to add family finding services, the agency enthusiastically submitted its application. Lilliput staff had already noticed that over half of the families they were certifying for adoption were kinship caregivers, so the Family Connection program seemed like a natural fit for their community. After being awarded the grant in 2009, Lilliput's Kinnections Initiative was launched, offering families in Sacramento County a unique blend of family finding and intensive kinship support services.

Building on an existing project that focuses on disproportionality in the county's child welfare system, the Kinnections Initiative targets African-American children from birth to age 17 entering the system for the first time. The initiative uses an "upstream" approach that begins services as soon as the child enters the system. The county child welfare agency automatically refers all children that meet the criteria for intensive services; Lilliput then supplements the county's initial relative search with an additional 3-6 months of family finding efforts. The agency uses a number of strategies, including case mining, Internet searches, family trees, and interviews with children and family members.

Once a relative placement is identified, Lilliput immediately begins providing intensive case management services throughout the sometimes lengthy assessment process, as well as both before and after the child is placed. These intensive services include:

  • Preplacement household preparation, i.e., child proofing, budgeting, emergency funding
  • In-home visitation and ongoing caseworker availability to the family
  • Identification of affordable child care arrangements
  • Connection to formal community resources
  • Informal family team decision-making meetings to bring together the extended family and establish ongoing support systems

The Kinnections Initiative staffs two family finding facilitators and two case management social workers; a kinship caregiver also serves as a parent partner who offers supplemental support services, facilitates support groups, and organizes a kinship advisory board for the initiative. The clinical director of Lilliput Children's Services provides individual and team supervision and coordinates ongoing staff training. Staff have been trained on family finding by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington and on kinship case management by Joseph Crumbley, who is also a consultant for the initiative.

The Stanford Home for Children will oversee the Kinnections Initiative's formal evaluation, but so far the early results are promising. The initiative has located relatives for over 90 percent of the children served, and 35-40 children have been placed in permanent homes. In addition, Lilliput's kinship support services received an "Inspire Giving" award from Sacramento's local business chamber. Results from the project evaluation will be disseminated to help build knowledge in the field about what works in family finding and kinship support to improve outcomes for children.

What Program Director Beverly Johnson finds most exciting is the way the initiative has improved cross-system collaboration and brought the community together around the common goal of permanency for children. "The more chances we have to describe our initiative to members of the community, the more they want to be involved," she says. "It seems like everyone can agree on the benefits that come from finding relatives early and helping the child and family make lasting connections." Encouraged by the initiative's results, Ms. Johnson and her colleagues have started forming a broad-based coalition of community partners to ensure the program's sustainability in the years to come.

To learn more about the Kinnections Initiative at Lilliput Children's Services:

Many thanks to Beverly Johnson, who provided the information for this article.