Family Search & Engagement Trainings & Workshops

A child’s inalienable right…Family.
What would you want for your child?

Family Search & Engagement (FSE) is a set of practices designed to locate, engage, connect, and support family resources for youth. A major goal of this practice is to move youth from a place where they don’t hear “I love you” to a place where they can hear it and feel it everyday. This comes from family, relatives, and others who love them.  Frequently these youths are involved in the child welfare system, have experienced multiple placements with non-relatives and have lost contact with their extended family members.

This training/workshop is intended to support the implementation of these complex practices by providing both an identification of the issues and activities involved and a variety of practical tools to assist the practitioner in the day-to-day work. It is the product of a collaborative process among agencies, practitioners, family members, and youth who have experienced the practice.


For Family Behavioral Health articles, click here

Guide to Family Search and Engagement

Permanence for Young People Measures
The National Resource Center suggests measures that states should use around permanency planning.

Permanence for Young People Framework
The National Permanence Framework developed by the NRC and Casey Center for Effective Child Welfare Practices.

Tools for Family Tracing and Social Reintegration
After the Rwanda genocide, NGOs used family tracing techniques to locate extended family member survivors.

Family Assessment and Stabilization Team; FAST

Family Behavioral Health Guiding Principles

Family Behavioral Health Mission, Values and Guiding Principles

CASA of Orange County 

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A Mother's Story

Five years ago, my oldest daughter suffered brain damage from an accidental overdose, right after her thirteenth birthday. Until then, she had been a highly successful, outgoing, loving child. After the overdose, I noticed strange behavioral problems developing that finally resulted in a frightening psychotic change. Many well-known doctors assured me that this was the beginning presentation of a mental illness, bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality – the labels changed with her presentations. I was also assured that there was no way this could have been caused by the overdose, though she had seized and was in a coma for a while; the doctors all told me that it made no difference. I’ll never forget the parting words of one doctor after her first discharge from a psychiatric unit. He told me, “Mrs. Smith, your daughter has less than a 50 percent chance of surviving adolescence if her condition worsens. You are in for a bumpy ride and you need to accept this.”

How do you accept a pending death sentence for your child? The only truth to his words was it WAS a very bumpy ride for the last five years. I watched my beautiful daughter melt into a world of multiple psychotropic medications. Almost once a month for four years, 911 lived at our house or my daughter lived in repeated short-term psychiatric inpatient care. Voices in her head told her to do terrible harm to her body and medications bloated her body up to 100 pounds on her little 5’3″ frame. We, her family, lived in daily fear of harm for us or her – a nightmare that we could never wake from.

We had moved back to Washington from Oregon two years into this nightmare. A month after our move, she decompensated and became violent. The hospital put me in touch with DSHS, and a caseworker there referred me to Catholic Community Services’ Family Preservation Program. Many times I’ve been frustrated with state agencies, but thank heavens for a caseworker that knew who was out there in the community for help. Other organizations we were referred to never came through or did not know how to help in situations like ours. Catholic Community Services became my lifeline.

Many times I’ve started to feel guilty for the “neediness” of our situation. NEVER have any of the family support team at CCS ever made me feel so. In fact, they came to know us so well that help was offered in such special ways that my pride would never have allowed me to voice. They’ve held my hand when the strain of living like this – trying to keep my child alive, trying to access help, protect her and her younger sister, and keep our family together and still work to support us all – almost broke me. Even at one point, when my family begged me to give up and commit my daughter, CCS helped me to find the strength to believe in a better tomorrow. There was never hesitation or any support that belittled me or my family, or made me feel like we were ever a problem, with our frequent needs for crisis intervention, respite, case aides, etc. What was always provided was calm, caring support to get us through those times, an amazing flexibility to meet ever-changing needs and their belief in our family’s strength and love.

This week my daughter will graduate from high school. She’s gone from functioning at a fourth-grade level to functioning as a wonderful young woman, with a life of potential ahead of her. With CCS’s support, we were able to convince the physicians to evaluate a potential for brain injury and guess what? She had suffered significant brain damage.

Stopping all meds more than a year ago, many of her psychotic presentations disappeared. She has not been hospitalized in this last year, either. WOW! While we still have a lot of neuro-rehab to completely support her in the future, I can tell you straight from my heart and soul that we would not have had this future without the support of CCS.

My daughters both smile easily these days and do tickle fights and have talks that only teen sisters can have. Locks are gone from my doors, pepper spray protection is now lost in the drawers, and 911 doesn’t call me by my first name. All this because of CCS support.

Client of Family Preservation Services
Northend Family Center, Tacoma

Family Behavioral Health Services finds Soultions

This article appeared in the June 21, 2001 Catholic Northwest Progress
By Pat Drake

TACOMA — A banner hanging in the hallway of the former convent proclaims “Never Ever Give Up!” Another advises people to “color outside the lines because there is more room there.”

This building, located next to Holy Cross Church in north Tacoma, houses Catholic Community Services’ (CCS) Northend Family Center, and it is here that CCS Family Preservation Services is located. The banners reflect the passionate philosophy of this program to do whatever it takes for a solution to a child’s or family’s complex need.

In this now-restored building, Mary Stone-Smith began her career as a therapist for Homebuilders in 1974. Homebuilders, one of the nation’s original family preservation services, was created in the Tacoma Northend Family Center, and was designed to strengthen families in order to avoid unnecessary out-of-home placements. To achieve this goal, therapists pledged to do whatever it takes to be responsive to families’ needs, including working evenings and weekends.

From this early foundation, a variety of services — family preservation, wraparound, crisis respite, and therapeutic foster care — have evolved into a service area within CCS called “Integrated Family Preservation Services.”

When Mary Stone-Smith took over the family preservation services in 1988, there were 20 employees and a budget of $400,000. In just 13 years the budget for the services has increased to $11 million. Now 200 people provide services to families who need help.
Stone-Smith attributes this CCS program’s tremendous growth to its success in helping children and families with very complex needs.

” The people of Catholic Community Services work with one heart to provide unconditional acceptance and care to all of the children and families we are asked to serve,” said Stone-Smith.

Family Preservation provides an integrated and flexible array of strengths-based services and supports centered on one predominant belief — children need their families and families need their children, she said.

No family is turned away, even though problems may be acute.

” Each of us at Catholic Community Services is accessible to families in the same way we are available to our neighbors and friends,” said Stone-Smith. She said that each family’s needs are unique and the service is tailored to fit the family using a nontraditional approach. Meetings take place in homes or wherever the family desires to meet.

Co-workers said Stone-Smith brought to the job “compassion without walls.” It is this deep caring for children that makes her effective at state meetings and with the legislators, said Don Koenig, director of Family Preservation CCS Southwest.

” She (Stone-Smith) meets people at all levels and can be stopped short in the middle of a million dollar discussion by hearing that a child has a critical need,” said Barbara Boisvert, service director/Family Preservation. “She never loses touch.”
Catholic Community Services’ history can be traced to 1860 when the then-Diocese of Seattle established an orphanage in Vancouver, Wash. It has grown into the largest not-for-profit social service organization in Washington State, with 13 family centers stretching from Bellingham to Vancouver.

When a state mental health reform in 1989 required alternatives to placing children in institutions, CCS implemented a “wraparound” approach to services. This approach for assessment is a team effort, with the family involved in all aspects — planning, assisting strengths, needs, and outcome.

The focus is on the child and family in the community, on building support systems to meet needs, on assets and capabilities.

” We build on strengths,” said Stone-Smith. “We look at the whole picture.” A team approach is used to find solutions. Extended family, other professionals such as doctors, school personnel and probation officers, may be invited to participate in helping find solutions. Stone-Smith said they try to serve children within the context of the child’s biological family. Family Preservation team members will try to connect the child with a relative even if this relative lives in another state.

” Somewhere in this country there is someone who cares,” said Kevin Campbell, intensive resources director for Family Preservation. “And, we find them.”

Team members of Family Preservation search computer databases for children’s relatives in this state and others. One such search turned up grandparents who were quite willing to take their grandchildren home and were overjoyed they had finally found them. In the last year, as many as 25 interventions have involved extended family from other states. The safety of the child is paramount in placement consideration.

” A tremendous amount of preparation work is completed before a child ever leaves,” Stone-Smith said. “We pull together a team of professional and natural supports who will support the child and family in the new state.” Staff members are generally sent for a visit a few months later to ensure that the child or children are still doing well.

Sometimes just having contact with extended family or family will make a difference in a child’s life. An example was a teenager who was left by her mother when the child was 2. By the time the child had reached her teenage years, she had been in as many as 40 foster parent homes because of behavior problems. When asked to help solve her behavior problem, the teenager said she just wanted to know why her mother had abandoned her.

After searching through thousands of names, Family Preservation found her mother in another state, serving time in jail. Other relatives were also identified. The mother was contacted, and she wrote her daughter a long letter to explain why she left. In the letter the mother stated she missed her daughter every day of her life. After the connection was made with her biological relatives, the child settled down in her foster home and completed school. A family contact made the difference. She will spend the summer with her newfound family.

During the last contract year, Family Preservation provided wraparound services to more than 200 families in the Southwest region and exceeded 93,500 service hours. “But what matters in the end is when families say they are doing better,” said Kevin Campbell, the intensive resources director.

FAST Program Provides Connections for Youth and Families

Pierce County Mental Health Report
Presented By The Regional Support Network (RSN) / Pre-paid Health Plan (PHP)

In October 2000, FAST (Family Access To Stabilization and Teaming) hit the ground running with its first referral. Since then, more than 600 children and families have participated in FAST services. Though the services are relatively new, FAST has achieved an outstanding success rate and was featured at recent state mental health and child welfare conferences. In October, FAST will present for the statewide child welfare conference in Minnesota, and in November will provide FAST training for northern California counties. Mental Health as well as Child Welfare administrators and providers have expressed interest in replicating this service in other regions within Washington State.

The purpose of FAST is to provide intensive support services to families when their children are at risk of being hospitalized due to mental health emergencies or placed in foster care because of a family crisis. At times, a youth will be referred after having lost a number of foster and group home placements due to behavioral issues. Support may be for one night or it may be for three months, depending on the needs of the family. The goal is to support the family and their children to build a plan that they believe will give them the best chance to live a safe and fulfilling life together. About half of the referrals to the program come from area hospitals, emergency rooms, and crisis triage; the other half come from throughout the foster care system, where placements are not working and the child is either homeless or without a family.

“Parents and their children can identify the things that they need to stay together. When we listen to them and help to find ways to meet those needs, remarkable things happen,” explained Kevin Campbell, Intensive Resources Director at Catholic Community Services. “We meet families and children in very difficult situations; without help their only choice may be to send their child to a psychiatric hospital or to foster care. With help from family members, school teachers, neighbors and community-based professionals, almost all of these children have stayed with their family or extended family,” Campbell said, adding, “What we have found in the past two years is an amazing 87 percent of children we have met have been able to stay home or live with extended family members.” He said many of the kids have challenges and are very difficult to care for, but regardless, with support, their parents and relatives want to keep their children home and work through the challenges.”

Campbell explained that when an outreach is being made, a parent often says that there is absolutely no one to help, that they are isolated from friends and family. The question is asked, “If your child was seriously hurt or sick, whom would you call from your family, friends or neighbors to help? Let’s call them now and get them involved.” Parents are so worried about their children during these times and can feel terribly alone as they encounter the crisis system. The FAST Team encourages them to know it’s imperative to involve their family and friends in helping. Parents and relatives are the experts with regard to the children in their family. For children in the foster care system, a family tree is researched with the support of state social workers. One important question is always asked: “Who loves this child and how can we find them and get them involved in making the best decisions for this child’s future?”

FAST was the brainstorm of a group of professionals from throughout the Pierce County mental health system and the Division of Child and Family Services, who met for more than a year with the one question: “What are the unmet needs of children and families in Pierce County?” The concept of FAST was developed. It has been up and running since October 2000, with two teams of six people, including one supervisor per team and one support person per team, as well as psychiatric services.

“FAST has evolved significantly over the past two years,” explained Mary Stone-Smith, Director, Integrated Family Preservation Service, Catholic Community Services. “Initially, we anticipated that at least 50 percent of the children and youth referred would need to be placed in a FAST home (foster home) for the duration of services. Early on, we discovered that with extensive family and relative searches, and intensive efforts put toward engagement of the family member, very few of these children need extensive time in a foster home.” She added: “When long-lost grandparents are found, for example, their response to our phone call is often, ‘We searched for our grandbaby for seven years when he was taken away from our daughter.’ We couldn’t find out anything about him, and finally we just gave up. Absolutely, we want to help.”

Stone-Smith explained that during the first year, 64 children were united with extended family members (some in other states) whom they had not known before. Nearly one year later, 62 of those children are still living with those extended family members, and two have stabilized in a permanent foster home while remaining connected to their relatives. “What we have learned in the process of developing and providing FAST Services has truly revolutionized the way we work with families in all areas (including Wraparound),” she said.

Staff from Catholic Community Services recently completed a referral for Karen, 14 years old (not her real name). She had 10 previous foster placements that were unsuccessful due to severe issues related to behavior and mental health challenges. Her parents were unable to care for her. She had experienced a number of losses and rejections throughout her life. Through FAST, the team was able to work with the family to locate a relative in Kentucky, who had not previously been considered as an option for Karen. She began e-mailing and calling, and started to feel a real connection. Through conversations, she learned of other relatives in Texas. On Karen’s 14th birthday, she visited with her newly found relatives and the outlook is very positive for her future.

“Our real focus is looking for a connection,” Campbell explained. “The kids are lonely and this contributes to their challenging behaviors. It is amazing what a sense of connection can do.”

“What I admire about the FAST team is their ability to meet children and families when they are most vulnerable, convey a sense of hope and then consistently follow through and make it a reality.” Explained RSN Children’s Services Coordinator Doug Crandall: “As a program and agency, staff really do ‘walk the talk’ of family-focused, flexible, do- whatever-it-takes, unconditional care,” he said.

“Pierce County has long been effective in preventing hospitalization for our children and youth; however, it too often involved out-of-home placement. With FAST, children and families can be assisted and maintained in their own homes. The family can be supported and strengthened or connections made with extended family. It is an extremely beneficial service to our families,” explained RSN Administrator, Fran Lewis.

For more information on FAST, call Catholic Community Services at (253) 759-9544.

Lighting the Fire of Urgency. . . . Families Lost and Found in America's Child Welfare System

Families Lost and Found in America’s Child Welfare System

By: Kevin A. Campbell, Sherry Castro, Nicole Houston, Don Koenig, Terry Roberts, John Rose, MD, and Mary Stone Smith

Catholic Community Services of Western Washington set out to learn what it would take for children and youth with complex needs living in the foster care and children’s mental health systems to have connections with those who cared most about them: parents, relatives, and others that loved them. The children and youth initially targeted by this effort were those who were living in foster or group care or at immanent risk of psychiatric hospitalization in Pierce County, Washington.

A Key Question

What sort of framework and technologies would be necessary to overcome the systemic barriers that block the ability for children and adolescents living in out-of-home care to maintain or reestablish contact and relationships with those that love them?

The Strategy

Look inside and outside of child welfare and children’s mental health service traditions for examples of extraordinary frameworks that could improve safety, well-being, and permanency outcomes for children in out-of-home care.

Some Extraordinary Frameworks

The International Red Cross
“Armed conflict and natural disaster leave millions of people around the globe in urgent need of humanitarian assistance every year. Adding to the physical losses, the confusion and chaos surrounding war and natural disaster often separate families just when they need each other most. Tragically, when families and loved ones are separated by war or disaster, their suffering is greater. But, through the strength of the Red Cross Movement and the work of trained volunteers at national societies around the world, including the American Red Cross, families reconnect.” (Source: International Red Cross)

Imagine you are sent to the border of a country experiencing war, famine or disaster. One hundred and fifty thousand men, women and children of all ages are headed for the border to seek safety, food, water, shelter and medical care. You and your team have three days and nights to prepare the necessary provisions for these life-sustaining needs, or watch an even greater calamity unfold before you. A completely overwhelming experience, yet every year in places around the world the International Red Cross responds to just such situations, as do many other government and non-government organizations.

There is no choice; it simply must be done. Because of this imperative, people just like you and me have developed frameworks, strategies, and tools to make it possible. Even more remarkable, given the scale and speed of the response, the Red Cross gives equal priority to providing personnel and equipment to interview those affected and store information about their relatives. This is done to help family members reconnect as soon as possible after the tragedy. The driving force is the understanding that the family’s best chance for recovery lies with one another, in a situation where civil government may have limited ability to help.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Family ancestry is an important part of individual, family and spiritual life. Through the use of the church’s extensive databases, search procedures and a worldwide network of Family Resource Centers, members of the church and others can work to extensively identify and document their family ancestry.

Through personal communication with church members, including members of the Ogden, Utah Department of Children and Family Services, it is estimated that the average American has conservatively between 100-300 living relatives.

Several of those interviewed spoke of family gatherings in Ogden that filled small soccer stadiums.

The American Family

According to the US Census Bureau 2000 Census, of 71 Million Children in the US:

  • 98% grow up with family
  • 2% foster care institutions


“In 1999, 2.3 million children, or 90 percent of children not living with their parents, lived with relatives, according to the 1999 National Survey of America’s Families (NSAF). The vast majority (1.8 million) of these placements were private, without child welfare involvement. Data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) from 49 states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) that were able to provide data, show that in 1999 kin were caring for 151,864 children in foster care, 26 percent of all foster care children (US DHHS 2001b).” The Continuing Evolution of State Kinship Care Policies, Author(s): Amy Jantz, Rob Geen, Roseana Bess, Cynthia Andrews, Victoria Russell)

Who Am I? Why Family Really Matters

Authors: Barbara Boisvert, Gina Brimner, Kevin Campbell, Don Koenig, Mary Stone-Smith
The authors administer Family Preservation within Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. Family Preservation is funded by mental health and child welfare to provide intensive and ongoing community- based services, including wraparound, therapeutic foster care, and family reunification to keep children safe and in their homes.

The most enriching environment for children is one in which they are loved and cared about no matter what. So many times children’s mental health and welfare workers meet children and youth who have journeyed from foster home to foster home, from hospital to residential program, and in and out of juvenile detention facilities. As these individuals travel through various homes and institutions, their identities become lost and confused; they become displaced children without a family, home or neighborhood. Pursuits for kinship placements become dead ends because no information is available or updated regarding the location or investment of family members. Often the initial tragedies in their lives are compounded by repeated experiences that no one cares, that there is nowhere to go that is safe, permanent, and accepting. Over years these children become adolescents that mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice providers know only too well and yet feel least able to help.

At Catholic Community Services of Western Washington Family Preservation (CCS) we believe that children need their families and families need their children. We serve children who are unable to live successfully at home, school, or in the community. As we provide wraparound and therapeutic foster care services, we strive to enrich children’s lives through rigorous family searches to reconnect children and youth with their families in whatever form possible. We are seeing miracles happening daily in the lives of these children as they are introduced to people who have inherent connections to them, including grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, even second cousins or members of their tribe. Young people are gaining a sense of true belonging, of meaning and value, while families are regaining dignity and hope through meeting the needs of their long-lost children. Of equal importance, we are seeing sustainable behavioral and placement successes. The experience of reuniting with family for many youth has a calming impact that results in significant reduction in distress and disruptive behaviors. Thus, these living situations and relationships are enduring and truly unconditional for children and youth are successful for those who had been thought to be unable to live in a home or outside of institutions.

Scope of the Problem
According to US census information, there were 71.5 million children under age 18 in 1996. The good news is that more than 98 percent of children were living with family or extended family in 1996 (US Census). However, the Center for Policy Analysis reports that more than 600,000 children were in foster care that same year (2001).

Foster care too often becomes a long-term solution rather than a temporary placement. Some research reports that 10 percent of children remain in care for longer than 7.4 years. (Bandow, 1999) One-quarter are in foster care for 4.3 or more years, and those who are adopted spend an average of four to six years in care. (Bandow, 1999) Many children in foster care experience disruption, chaos and rejection through multiple placements. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, 23 percent of children in foster care will have two placements, 20 percent will have 3-5 placements, and seven percent will have more than seven placements. (2001)

Adoptions are also not as permanent for some children as we would hope. Adoption offers many children a stable home environment. However, children who are older or who carry emotional disorders experience less permanence and success in these placements. Ten to 12 percent of adoptions of children aged 3 and older do not continue. (Barth and Berry, 1990) For children aged 6 through 12, 9.7 percent of those adoptions fail, and for adoptions of children of ages 12 to 18, 13.5 percent fail. (Barth, 1988) Of children at all ages with special needs who are adopted, 14.3 percent of those arrangements fail. (Groze, 1986)

Children facing behavioral challenges also may be placed in institutional settings, including hospitals and residential treatment facilities. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, residential treatment centers are highly restrictive, costly, and are not always proven to be effective in treating children with mental health problems. (Surgeon General, 1999) The Report on Mental Health also lists concerns related to this form of care, including “failure to learn behavior needed in the community,” and “difficulty reentering the family or even abandonment by the family.”

Family Story
Charlie is a 12-year-old African American boy who was addicted to cocaine at birth. Charlie was immediately placed in foster care, as his relatives were not deemed appropriate placement options for him. After living in 10 foster homes, Charlie was placed in the home of a single African American woman when he was 8 years old. Charlie’s foster mother, Serena, was consistent with meeting Charlie’s special needs, and has remained committed to him since he came to live with her four years ago. Serena has ensured that Charlie attend appointments with his physician, psychiatrist, therapist, and speech therapist. She has assisted him with his schoolwork, resulting in significant improvement in his performance. Serena considered adopting Charlie, but has been hesitant because her father’s health has been deteriorating over the past few years. Serena anticipated that he would need to live with her so that she could assist him and prevent his need for nursing home care.

Serena was aware that it would be very difficult to adequately provide for Charlie and care for her father. As Serena’s attention was diverted to her father, Charlie began having more difficulty controlling anger outbursts at home, at school, and in other places in the community. He threw objects, hit and kicked others, and ran into traffic. He was at risk for encounters with law enforcement and for child protection moving him to another home or to residential care. All who knew Charlie were aware that he would be less successful if removed from his home, as he had not succeeded in foster care previous to placement with Serena. Their bond was significant, and her long-term commitment was a key factor in his success to date. Charlie was referred for wraparound services to provide supports in the home to allow Charlie to grow up with Serena.

Upon receiving the referral, CCS worked with Serena and Charlie’s caseworker to develop a team. The care coordinator encouraged Serena to identify a few individuals who care about her and who might consider offering ideas about how to help her family. The therapist and psychiatrist were invited to participate in planning for Charlie’s care, with the anticipation of including school personnel in the fall. The coordinator also discussed the option of pursuing Charlie’s natural family to seek additional support for him. Team members reported that Charlie had no known family, though they were enthusiastic about CCS looking for kinship options for him. According to child protection records, his mother was an addict when Charlie was born, and there was no information about his father.

In searching through old child protection records, the care coordinator located Charlie’s natural grandmother in a rural community in Georgia. Upon hearing about Charlie, his grandmother was very excited about knowing that her grandchild was safe and cared for. She explained that his mother was in an isolation cell in the local jail. No contact was allowed unless by minister or by attorney. The care coordinator contacted a local attorney, and asked that she convey a message to Charlie’s mother that he is alive and well, and that she might be of help to him. Charlie’s mother wrote Charlie a letter telling him that she thought about him every day, and that she loved him.

Charlie’s natural family lived a very rural life, with many family members living close to one another in a small community. His aunt was a licensed foster care provider, and his grandmother had provided child care through a licensed day care facility for years. Upon learning of their interest in Charlie and the family connections with the community through church activities and the child care system, the team felt comfortable with Charlie developing relationships with his extended family.

The care coordinator accompanied Charlie to Georgia to meet his extended family. The entire community was aware of his arrival, and greeted him with excitement. He immediately befriended an uncle, and felt comfortable in this new environment. Charlie poured over family albums with his relatives, and learned about his heritage of African American ancestors who had lived in the South with great courage.

Following his visit to Georgia, his grandmother came to Washington to see where Charlie lived, and to meet his foster mother. They developed an immediate friendship. She met with the local team and gained their confidence as a potential support for Charlie. Although Charlie felt good about his visit to Georgia, he did not want to leave his foster mother, and was not ready to move so far away. All parties agreed that Washington was his home, and that all efforts should be made to keep him at home while developing his relationship with other adults who sincerely cared about him.

The care coordinator worked with the two teams — one local and one including the extended family in Georgia. The local team focused on the immediate family needs, adding supervision supports including respite provided by Serena’s sister who had been worried about her father and did not know how to help. The team helped Charlie identify activities that he enjoyed and developed plans for Serena’s close friends and CCS staff to assist with taking him to community events and activities. Meanwhile, the larger team looked at long-term options for Charlie and his foster mother regarding supports for her needs and his. These options included concurrent plans that offered alternative family placements in Georgia and locally for Charlie. The team considered two scenarios and planned for each in anticipation that one might be more effective or appealing than others when complete:

Charlie’s extended family identifying one of their homes in which he could live with holiday and other planned visits to see Serena.
Charlie’s grandmother or other family member moving to Washington to live in Serena’s home and offer support to both Serena and Charlie.

Charlie continues to live with Serena while making regular trips to develop relationships with his extended family in order to allow for the success of whichever option best suits the family’s needs.

Family Search, Reunification and Support Strategies
Consistent with Wraparound practice, our approach to working with children begins with identifying the underlying needs and strengths of the child and family. We have learned that unmet needs for children in crisis often revolve around being separated from key family members, or from families experiencing isolation and lack of support as they face financial and other social challenges while attempting to provide for their children. Our experience is that problematic behaviors arising in foster home settings often stem from a child’s longing for his or her parents. In our exploration of unmet needs and resources we then focus on identifying family members who can possibly offer the child and/or family support, assistance, and even placement opportunities. For some children, parents or grandparents are identified as resources. In other situations, an aunt or cousin may become a key resource that provides support to the child or family. Exploration of resources then focuses on identifying as many relatives as possible that could ultimately result in meaningful family involvement with a child in need.

Family Search
In the search for family supports, the most valuable source of information is often the child. Children are able to tell us names and general locations of family members who have known and cared about them. Other family members (even those who are not able to have contact with the child) can provide critical information about who else can help. A search may also involve researching child welfare records. Initial child protection records typically will have contact names and numbers for other family members who have long since been disconnected from the child’s life. An ancestry chart is compiled for both the maternal and paternal family. Once a family member is located, the initial call focuses on gathering information about the strengths of the family member, information about other family members and finally, carefully providing information about the strengths and general needs of the child. The information collected is recorded, analyzed and follow up; face-to-face contact is planned to further develop a supportive connection.

Family Meeting
The initial meetings between a child and family who have been disconnected focus on informal conversations that establish a sense of belonging and identity for the child. Often family members tell stories about the family and the child. In most cases this is a natural process that needs little facilitation by the coordinator. Follow-up meetings begin to reflect a child and family team meeting style in which the family becomes increasingly responsible to brainstorm and develop possible options to meet the child’s needs.

Planning for Multiple Scenarios
The focus of team planning is to create multiple contingencies that maximize the potential for successful living for the child and family. As in the family story, the team identified three possible options for Charlie and his mother. Each option is pursued concurrently to ensure that the planning will lead to a successful outcome in the least amount of time possible.

These stabilization efforts have improved outcomes for establishing sustainable placements and reducing risk levels for children and youth served. We have followed outcomes for children served by our Family Access to Stabilization Team (FAST) in which services are provided intensively for up to three months to respond to children and youth exhibiting high-risk behaviors (including suicide attempts, aggression, and running away). Of 200 youth served in a 10-month period, all were at risk of out-of-home placement or were placed outside the home upon referral. Many of these children were at risk for residential or other institutional placements. Intensive services were provided for an average of 50 days. Upon discharge from FAST, 79 percent of the youth were living at home or with relatives, with 21 percent living in therapeutic foster care or independent living settings. Thirty-five of the youth were referred for, or continued in traditional mental health service support upon discharge. Ten percent receive intensive wraparound support to families. As sustainable placement options are realized for children, risk factors that brought them into intensive services lessen. In a study of 74 of these youth (Carr, 2001), it was determined that a significant decrease of risk occurred by the time of discharge from FAST. Additionally, most of the youth exited to home or relatives.

Every child, regardless of disability, deserves to have a sense of self. In our efforts to provide treatment and services, we often inadvertently disconnect a child from a critical part of self — family. Assisting a child in gaining a sense of belonging, heritage, and security provides enrichment that exists far beyond the involvement of any service system in the child’s life. Building family connections allows the opportunity for relationships that are sustainable, and for potential solutions to emotional and behavioral needs, even placement needs for a child who is being cared for or treated by a formal system. Concurrent planning with extended family is also critical to create flexibility in responding to the needs of a child and family to maximize success and reduce the length and number of out-of-home placements. The children we serve will have many challenges to face throughout their lives. It is our hope that they also have lasting relationships with people who are there to call, to stay with, or to write, people who care about them, no matter what. Who better than family?

Bandow, Doug (1999).Children in Crisis. Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.

Barth, R.P., and Berry, M. (1988). Adoption and disruption: rates, risks, and responses. Hawthorne, NY: Adline de Gruyter.

Carr, Connie D. (2001), Family Access to Stabilization and Transition. University of Washington research paper, Tacoma Washington.

Groze, V. (1986). Special needs adoption. Child and Youth Services Review, 8(4), 363-373.

National Center for Policy Analysis (2001). Children’s Homes: An Alternative to Foster Care. Washington, D.C.; NCPA.

U.S. Surgeon General (1999). Report on Mental Health. Washington, D.C.; U.S. Government Printing Office

Family Behavioral Health System Provides School-based Services

This article appeared in the Summer 2006 Issue of Samaritan Magazine

Family Preservation System Provides School-based Services

-This article appeared in the Summer 2006 Issue of Samaritan Magazine

CCS Family Preservation Services (FPS) in Vancouver has begun to provide school-based services for high school students, with a home-based component for parents and families.

According to Don Koenig, director of the FPS Vancouver office, the school-based services, provided through a “wraparound” approach, are a first for FPS, Camas School District 150, and the Camas Alternative Program (CAP), an alternative high school where the services will begin.

Earlier this year, Clark County invited FPS to develop the services, which include traditional school-based counseling and therapy. FPS will add home-based family therapy and an array of community and strengths-based therapeutic activities. Three therapists will work closely with students, teachers and families to personalize services to create a service package currently unavailable in Clark County. A “family partner” will have a special role on this treatment team in supporting parents and connecting families to community resources.

The intent of the services is to reach out to students who are struggling with social, cognitive, and/or emotional difficulties through a combination of counseling, coaching and therapeutic activities. The services are designed to help students improve and to enhance academic performance, along with overall social and emotional well-being.

The primary target population for services are students and families that are Medicaid eligible. This fall, the Camas School District will provide additional funding to serve non-Medicaid students that meet the medical necessity criteria. Students may request the services, and families, teachers and the CAP principal may refer students.

Prior to the providing the services, FPS consulted students and families about the types of services that would be helpful for them. Focus and discussion groups and activities that will raise the program’s visibility will continue during the summer.

“This is a great opportunity for CCS to collaborate with the Camas School District to offer these new services to the community,” Koenig said. “These services by design are flexible and build on students’ strengths and interests to hopefully lead to greater success.”

The annual renewable contract that FPS has to provide the services is an important opportunity for CCS and FPS, Koenig said. “We expect this wraparound approach to be successful at the Camas Alternative Program and hope it will lead to opportunities with the rest of the school district.”