Piloting the Family Finding Program

Family Finding is a national program that locates relatives of children in foster care and encourages them to provide emotional support or even a permanent home for these children. To determine if the Family Finding model can achieve permanent placement and improved outcomes for foster care children in North Carolina, The Duke Endowment has provided $3 million to support a four-year implementation and evaluation program in nine counties in North Carolina, plus an additional $2 million to help expand the program throughout the state.


Many children languish in foster care or in children’s homes because they have lost connections to family members who may be willing to step in and provide assistance or even permanent placement, or at least serve as a source of emotional support. But finding these estranged family members is a challenge, and most public and private child-serving agencies do not have the resources to step in. As a result, what could become a viable option for permanent placement — and a critical network for emotional support — remains untapped, to the detriment of all involved.


In 1999, youth and permanency expert Kevin Campbell created a model for finding family members of children in out-of-home care. His Family Finding approach is inspired by techniques used by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations for reuniting families separated by war, political conflict or natural disasters. The model is particularly applicable to areas of high poverty or with high rates of out-of-home placements.

Spreading Roots in North Carolina

Family Finding is nearing the end of a multi-state evaluation and early results appear quite positive. As part of this study, The Duke Endowment supported a four-year implementation and evaluation of the Family Finding model in nine North Carolina counties beginning in 2009. The N.C. Department of Social Services administered the project in six of those counties; Children's Home Society of North Carolina administered it in three.

The project also caught the attention of a national funder, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which encouraged Children’s Home Society to apply for Social Innovation Fund grants in 2011. The Family Finding program was chosen from among more than 200 applicants and received $6 million in additional funds to expand the program’s reach to 24 North Carolina counties from 2011 to 2014. Those funds are being matched by an additional $6 million from other sources, including The Duke Endowment. Today, Family Finding serves children in 20 North Carolina counties.

Family Finding includes six stages:

  1. Discovering at least 40 family members of the child, using tools such as Internet searches and genealogical archives.
  2. Learning more about the child through close connections.
  3. Planning for the child’s successful future with family members and others.
  4. Decision-making for the future, including plans for legal and emotional permanency.
  5. Evaluating the permanency plan.
  6. Following-up with the child and family.

Every Family Finding case focuses on four goals:

  1. Identify at least 40 family members and other important relationships for each child.
  2. Proceed toward permanent placement with family whenever possible.
  3. Help children learn their family story and develop a sense of self-history and identity.
  4. Improve outcomes in permanence and well-being, now and into adulthood.

Child Trends, a national nonprofit organization that provides research on programs and policies that affect children and their families, is conducting the national randomized controlled study to scientifically measure the effectiveness of Family Finding. The Duke Endowment is exploring two key questions:

  1. Will the Family Finding model lead to more permanent placements of children from foster care or group homes?
  2. Do these placements improve a child’s well-being?

Participating Sites in North Carolina

Initial Family Finding counties (since 2009):

  • Buncombe
  • Catawba
  • Cumberland*
  • Durham
  • Gaston*
  • Guilford
  • Mecklenburg
  • New Hanover*
  • Wake County

Counties added through Social Innovation Fund grant (since 2011):

    • Alexander
    • Beaufort
    • Burke
    • Clay
    • Cleveland
    • Forsyth
    • Haywood
    • Jackson
    • Lincoln
    • Macon
    • Madison
    • Pitt
    • Polk
    • Scotland
    • Transylvania

      *Participating in pilot only.


      Area of Work

      • Out-of-home care for youth

      Program Area

      • Child & Family Well-Being

      Grantmaking Status

      The Endowment is continuing to work through current grantees and is not accepting new applications.

      Areas of Work

      • Prevention and early intervention for at-risk children

        To equip children and families with skills to ensure that children reach developmental milestones to lead successful lives.

      • Out-of-home care for youth

        To drive child welfare systems toward greater accountability for child well-being.

      • Quality and safety of health care

        Improving the quality and safety of health care delivery

      • Access to health care

        Improving health by increasing access to comprehensive care

      • Prevention

        Expanding programs to promote health and prevent disease

      • Academic excellence

        Enhancing academic excellence through program and campus development

      • Educational access and success

        Increasing educational access and supporting a learning environment that promotes achievement

      • Campus and community engagement

        Promoting a culture of service, collaboration and engagement among schools and communities

      • Rural church development

        Building the infrastructure and capacity of United Methodist churches to enhance ministry and mission

      • Clergy leadership

        Strengthening United Methodist churches by improving the quality and effectiveness of church leadership

      • Congregational outreach

        Engaging United Methodist congregations in programs that serve their communities