DHS Home Page
Department of Human Services    Follow DHS on Facebook Follow DHS on Twitter Watch DHS Videos on Vimeo Connect with DHS on LinkedIn

DHS News Header

 DHS News January 2014     



Family Finding Builds Support

For Amy Sula, the excitement she finds in her work comes from its bottom line: Helping to find lasting, solid supports for children that will help them in their lives’ journey.

As Manager of Integration Program Services, Amy is part of a core group of Department of Human Services (DHS) administrators who are examining and refining Family Finding techniques to increase participation by relatives in case planning for children and families. Those kin potentially can, Amy explained anecdotally, give a child in care the kind of support no one else can, ties that might result in “a place to go at Christmas.”

Family Finding – the search for relatives, kin and connections who can help shepherd a child to a productive life – is designed to result in longer term support, of course, but Amy tells anecdotes about prior work with children in congregant care to emphasize how for some children, loneliness is an everyday reality.  Some would not get phone calls or visits, she said, let alone celebrate holidays with family or friends.

Amy is now working to help refine approaches to Family Finding to gently engage family members in lives of extended family of whom they might not even be aware. A target goal is to support the young people aging out of foster care without adequate relationship supports and who consequently lack the permanency and guidance they need to be healthy, self-sufficient adults.  Family Finding work is also done with intact families to identify natural supports which may assist in alleviating circumstances that brought the family to the attention of Child Welfare.

Since 2008, federal law has required child care agencies to attempt to locate kin to the 5th degree -- parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even great-grandparents. The Allegheny County Department of Human Services, however, has long embraced the utilization of kin as a preferred child placement resource.

The effort took on renewed vigor in 2013, as DHS began rolling out Conferencing and Teaming in casework. This practice brings to the table at the start of case planning many people who can assist a child and help strengthen the family. That includes any kin who are contacted and agree to help forge solutions and provide supports.

Conferencing and Teaming is a key element of DHS’s participation in the federal Child Welfare Demonstration Project (CWDP). The project shifts federal funding tied to placements of children in foster care and other out-of-home settings to methods that emphasize family engagement, comprehensive assessments, and quality interventions. It also enables the funding of system-level changes expected to increase stability, and therefore well-being, for children.

Family Finding, a technique developed in the Pacific Northwest by long-time social services administrator Kevin A. Campbell, requires a “soft” approach to contacting family members to find supports, due in part to privacy and other concerns. Conversations are being had among DHS administrators to explore how to do this in the most sensitive, safe and legal way.

The approach, as many DHS practices do, also involves data management.  In late November 2013, Family Finding was incorporated into the Key Information and Demographics System (KIDS) software, the case management system used by DHS professionals facilitating casework. The Family Finding details viewable in KIDS include who relatives are, how they have been identified and located, at what level they wished to be involved and what they can do to help.

Although Kevin Campbell came to DHS to conduct a workshop four years ago in Family Finding, the continued examination and refinement of techniques also requires the need for additional training and building of additional supports for DHS child welfare staff.

That is also part of the work the core group is now studying.  Besides Amy, the group includes CYF Director Walter Smith Jr. and Deputy Director Jacki Hoover, Systems Integration Director Jeanine Rasky and Executive Deputy Director for Integrated Program Services Patricia Valentine.




DHS News Newsletter
DHS News Archive