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How do I start family tracing?

How do I start family tracing?

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Family tracing starts with the child in your care and the information that you have for their specific situation. Any time a child enters a care setting (whether residential or alternative family), the organization should have completed an intake form. There are also instances where the organization does not have adequate information on the child.

If your organization is not accustomed to writing down children’s background information, start doing it, especially if one staff carries all that information in their head.

Each of the following situations will lead to different approaches to family tracing and ultimately placement of the child.

Child visits family during holidays

  • This placement will result in the most streamlined tracing situation.
  • The family assessment may be able to be started using already existing information and phone conversations.
  • While the child might be accustomed to visiting for two or three weeks at a time, discuss with the family about the nature of long-term and permanent placement. Determine if this will be a safe placement for the child.
  • Assess if support needs to be put in place to maintain the placement. Provide the support within the child’s Care Plan.
  • If necessary and healthy for the placement, provide any initial support or reintegration package (phone necessities, food or cash, parenting advice, etc.).

Child is in need of care from an alternative family or community person

  • Cover section for “How do I conduct family tracing?” for initial direction and ensuring necessity principle is upheld.
  • The highest priority will be establishing a safe assessment of a placement. Safety is paramount and permanency can be addressed later if this family isn’t the long term placement for the child.
  • Consider immediate community options in formal or informal foster care.
  • Utilize community linkages (neighbors, partner organizations, the government) as primary sources for tracking down family leads.
  • Being placed with a family that are strangers to the child should only be considered after exhausting family and friend networks around the child. Even when such families are good people, “stranger care” can be very hard for children. Placements with unfamiliar individuals or relatives will require the most stringent monitoring system. Plan to call regularly, if not daily.

Previous family caregiver was not safe

  • Follow the same guidelines as if there were not enough information to start an ideal tracing process.
  • Do not place a child with a family member that you know to be unsafe. Not having a safe placement option is the same as not having a placement option at all. 
  • Many times, the abusive family member can provide you with the contact of another family member that would provide a safe place for the child. That could be a valuable start to your assessment and placement process.
  • For further counsel on this, see this question answered by the organization SFAC on this free JourneyHome video resource – “How can we protect a reintegrated child when their abuser may still be in the community?”