DHS News January 2014
Family Finding Builds
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,
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.
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