A pilot project by Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County (F&CS) and Until The Last Child (UTLC).
Approximately 50% of kids in our 2012 - 2014 Guelph Finding, Keeping and Honouring Connections Pilot Project found permanent loving homes.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE FINDING, KEEPING, AND HONOURING CONNECTIONS PILOT PROJECT
The Finding, Keeping and Honouring Connections Pilot Project was a collaborative initiative with F&CS and UTLC with the objective to find permanent families for children and youth in care by implementing new strategies and an infusion of time limited resources to increase capacity and change culture.
Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County (F&CS) acts on behalf of the Ontario government to keep children safe in their families and communities. The Child and Family Services Act of Ontario gives F&CS the authority to work with families when there are worries about child safety, well-being, and permanency for children and youth. They are the local child protection organization in Guelph and Wellington County. Until The Last Child (UTLC) is a national registered charity working alongside child welfare entities to promote innovation and provide new funding.
Introduction and Research Goals
Permanency matters: research shows that with a stable family environment where they feel loved and connected, children and youth have far better odds of graduating from high school, advancing to post-secondary education, finding rewarding work and staying connected to adults who care for them.
F&CS and UTLC were concerned that (a) families, children, and youth did not have an adequate support network, and (b) that youth aging out of the system would not have supportive individuals in their lives. To address these concerns, they wanted to ensure that the child welfare system was helping families, children and youth foster important connections. Furthermore, F&CS and UTLC wanted to educate the community about children’s needs: Children need more than just a permanent place to live; children also need caring adults to support and understand them. They also wanted to make sure that the people they work with felt that they were honoured in their experience.
So they asked the following research question:
How could the service model be changed to assist people in finding, keeping, and honouring their connections?
The organizations wanted to determine if structural agency changes and philosophical shifts would result in better outcomes for the children, youth, and families F&CS worked with. They wanted to hear from children, youth, and families about their experiences. And, they wanted to have support networks in place for those F&CS work with because such connections have the ability to sustain safety, permanency, and wellness outcomes for children, youth and their families.
F&CS and UTLC developed a definition of permanency that included all the aspects that they wanted to have people focus on when working together and translated this definition into a graphic (4 Markers of Permanency). They developed the definition after doing a qualitative review of permanency definitions internationally.
They reviewed all of the programs that are currently successful in building and sustaining connections for people. They identified most with a model called “Family Finding” by Kevin Campbell. All staff and some community partners were trained in this model.
F&CS created agency positions in 2012 called Family Finding (FF) and Permanency Support (PS) and hired two workers, funded by UTLC. These workers began to find and reconnect people to their past to create a new future, to create support networks for both families, children, and youth, to listen to the stories of the people they were working with and use their feedback to improve services, and to honour the experience of families and children.
They spoke directly to families, children, and youth that had worked with the Family Finding and Permanency Support workers to determine their experience.
Finding, Keeping, and Honouring Connections is work that takes place throughout the agency and is not only the specific work of the FF/PSs. The FF/PSs, however, have kept statistics about the work that they do.
Therefore, their work is able to be related to the outcomes for children, youth, and their families and networks. Thus, there is more work that has not been captured in the outcomes to date.
Key results after making changes at the agency:
- 215 children have had involvement with the Family Finding and Permanency Support Workers (FF/PS). Of these 215 children, over 50% were able to remain with their families or were placed in another permanent living arrangement while the FF/PSs worked with them. Over 70% had a network of support, and over 90% increased their connections (relationships being developed).
- During the pilot period, over 50% of the children found permanency. This can be compared to the national average of sometimes less than 5%.
- Of all the children in foster care in 2015 – 2016, the children and youth that were working with the FF/PSs reached their permanency outcomes, specific to placement, more quickly than children who were not involved with the FF/PSs.
- A review of a set of 20 cases of children living in foster care (10 of them being involved with a FF/PS and 10 not being involved with a FF/PS) found that cases with FF/PS had:
- More meetings with families and their network of support.
- More internal planning meetings to move the permanency work forward at a quicker pace.
- More family and network members involved in planning.
- 40% of the cases with a FF/PS achieved permanence with specific reference to placement vs. only 10% of the non-FF/PS cases.
- Children and youth that reconnected with or met family members reported feeling heard, loved, and as if a “hole had been filled”.
- The new definition of permanency - 4 Markers of Permanency - has been embedded and socialized into the agency’s culture.
- Parents said that reconnecting with their past was painful but helpful in their healing process; they now had “somebody” to call when they needed support.
- People (children, youth, family members) reported finally being “helped”, “heard”, and “honoured”.
Structural agency changes and philosophical shifts have resulted in the desired changes being translated in the work that F&CS does with children, youth, and families. These results were reported directly from the people (children, youth, and families) they work with.
Children, youth, and families also said that having networks of support in place made them feel less lonely and like others cared about them.
F&CS and UTLC continue to believe that networks of support have the ability to sustain safety, permanency, and wellness outcomes for children and their families. F&CS and UTLC will continue to look for new ways to ensure that our approach is helpful for the people they work with.