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May 2011Vol. 12, No. 4Where Family Finding Comes First

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.

Kids Central, Inc., based in Ocala, FL, is passionate about family finding. The agency believes that identifying and engaging all the family members of children in foster care is critical to providing these children with permanent families and connections. As early as 2007, Director Irene Rickus was working with family finding trainer Kevin Campbell to provide intensive training and case consultation to workers in the five counties that Kids Central serves. When the opportunity to apply for a Family Connection grant came along in 2009, they lost no time in translating that passion into a winning grant application.

Using the Federal grant funds, Kids Central is conducting a comparison of two types of family finding training for caseworkers: standard training and training that includes intensive coaching. Workers in the coaching condition receive the added benefits of working with an experienced family finder who can demonstrate the technique, work alongside the caseworker, provide feedback, and consult as the caseworker perfects his or her family finding skills.

How does family finding work? Kids Central uses family finding with all children at all ages in the foster care system. They even may use the technique with families receiving in-home services when a parent needs support from family members. Typically, there are several steps:

  • "Mining" the child's case file to identify every family member, foster family member, caseworker, teacher, and other potential contact, with a goal of identifying 40 contacts
  • If the child is verbal, performing a mobility mapping exercise in which the child uses a marker and paper to draw contacts, starting with his or her earliest memories (Who lived next door? What was the name of the school or church?)
  • For the verbal child, asking the child to identify the people he or she would like on the team and asking the child to identify his or her top five unmet needs (usually "love" and "family")
  • Inviting all contacts to a blended perspective family team meeting at which the family discusses the child's unmet needs
  • Following up with a family group decision-making meeting at which the family decides how the child's needs will be met and who will do what

The coach or independent facilitator leads the meeting, keeping in mind the importance of safety for the child. But the goal is to help the family take responsibility for making the decisions about the child, including where the child will live, who will be responsible, who will provide backup care, and how the child's needs will be met. Families are also encouraged to use these types of meetings to resolve any issues that arise later. Caseworkers follow up to ensure that the plan is sustainable.

As part of the grant, Kids Central is writing a curriculum for intensive family finding. The curriculum will be used to train new caseworkers and ensure that family finding is part of their practice from Day 1.

Director Irene Rickus is an unabashed promoter of family finding. She has seen firsthand how family finding can result in permanent homes for children and increased support for families. She also notes that, "Family finding is part of a whole family-centered approach that shifts responsibility for decision-making away from professionals and to the child's family. It can lead to a restoration of family dignity. It can also lead to greater client satisfaction and greater worker satisfaction."

To read some of Kids Central's family finding success stories, visit the National Foster Care Month webpage on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website:

To find out more about Kids Central's family finding program and curriculum, contact Director Irene Rickus at

To find out more about the Children's Bureau Family Connection grant program, visit:

Many thanks to Irene Rickus, who provided the information for this article.