Knowledge Base

Three starting points for family tracing.

Three starting points for family tracing.

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Family tracing starts with the child in your care and the information that you have (or don’t 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 completed using already existing information and utilizing remote contact to prepare for placement.
  • While the child might be accustomed to visiting for two or three weeks at a time, discuss with the family about the open-ended nature of placement during the pandemic. 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 (phone necessities, food or cash, parenting advice, etc.).

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

  • The reality of this situation is not ideal. Cover section for “How do I conduct family tracing?” for initial direction.
  • Due to the emergency situation, the highest priority will be establishing a safe assessment of a placement rather than a full-fledged best practice placement. Safety is paramount and permanency can be addressed later if this family isn’t the long term placement for the child.
  • A full tracing and assessment can take place later when restrictions are lifted. Consider immediate community options in formal or informal foster care. For now, good enough will need to be good enough.
  • Prioritize safety for your staff and don’t put them at risk during the family tracing process. 
  • Utilize community linkages (neighbors, partner organizations, the government) as primary sources for tracking down family leads.
  • 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.