How family search and engagement can impact a youth’s path to successful adulthood
Through its Permanency Practice Leadership Division Plummer provides consulting, coaching, and training in permanency best practices to child welfare professionals working in government programs and in private, non-profit agencies. Our permanency work is carried out in the spirit of the Plummer Promise to work to ensure that every youth has access to “permanency”; someone committed unconditionally to nurture, protect, and guide them to successful adulthood.
One of the basic parts of permanency practice is family search and engagement (FSE). It is a practice that identifies and locates family members, community members and others who are significant to children and youth in foster care or who are at risk of coming into care. FSE includes safely establishing or re-establishing relationships between children and important adults in their lives.
Cheryl Peltier, a Senior Child Welfare Manager at Plummer, notes that the “search” part of FSE is the just the beginning of the work. As the term suggests, search involves identifying and locating people who have a connection to a youth which may in some way contribute to their finding permanency. “People”, are found in many ways, including through intensive case record review. Asking the youth who is important to them or who do they think of when they are going to sleep each night can lead to many potential connections. In addition, many families have a key person, often a grandparent or another elderly relative, who is most familiar with family history and who can provide many to links to other important family members.
Ms. Peltier notes that “search” is often the easy part of FSE. The real work begins with getting the people who have been identified and found to engage in working on behalf of a child. Individuals can contribute in many ways to the permanency process. They can provide relevant family history, serve as a member of the youth’s permanency team, contribute concrete supports such as transportation to appointments, offer to help a youth with important life skills like learning to drive or provide respite for a family member needing extra support to be able to successfully parent a child.
Many people assume that when they are contacted as part of the FSE process they are being asked to provide a permanent home for the child. The social worker helps people engage by assuring them placement is not the reason they have been contacted. Very often they can be most helpful by helping a child understand their history. Many kids in foster care do not have a clear understanding of why they came into care or who their family members are. With information gathered from parents, former foster parents, and others a child can develop a clearer sense of what has happened to them. And, in turn, be better prepared to attach to future care takers. While a permanent family resource eventually may emerge from FSE it is not the initial focus of the work.
Another important part of FSE is to ensure that the youth’s paternal side of the family is brought into the process. Frequently in child welfare the focus is on the mother and her side of the family. Fathers are often described as not being involved with or interested in their children. With the FSE process seeking out and involving fathers and their relatives is a standard practice. It often leads to establishing many enduring connections and supports for a child. In addition, the paternal family may provide important family history that could not be obtained from another source.
Jillian Chenault, Program Director of Intensive Permanency Services, notes that that the guiding principle beneath Plummer’s FSE work is to include people in the process for what they can do rather than exclude them for what they can’t do. There are many people who are unable to provide a home for a child and some who cannot have any direct contact with a child. But that does not exclude them from helping a child they care about find permanency. A baby picture from a birth mother, a letter from an incarcerated father, the contact information for a long lost relative or a phone call from a former foster parent can help a child. These are all things that can emerge from the family search and engagement process. And, as such, are all important parts of each child’s journey to permanency.
–Written by Diane Kindler, LCSW