by Shannon Deinhart, Stephanie Beleal, and Cass Freeland
All children have family, and we can find them if we try.
All kin have value, regardless of their ability to serve as the primary caregiver of the child.
All children deserve to remain connected to their culture, community, and kin.
These are the program values for Kinnect to Family (KTF), a specialized, intense family search and engagement program of Kinnect in Ohio. At Kinnect, we believe that families are the experts in their own lives, while they may need help discovering and organizing for extensive family search and engagement, 30 Days to Family® Ohio specialists worked in partnership with them as agency employees. Specialists served only two families at a time and sought to complete family search and engagement in 30 days. The goal was not only to identify caregivers but also to create a network of support with them. Specialists contacted all family members, believing that each had something to contribute. They believed that families—not agencies—were the experts on their own lives, and guided them in mapping all of their supports. Program Implementation and Expansion Kinnect built 30 Days to Family® Ohio as it unfolded. The rollout their strengths. Relatives have a right to know that family exists, and everyone has something to contribute.
KTF began as 30 Days to Family® Ohio in 2018. Then-Attorney General Mike DeWine identified that many children were entering foster care due to the opioid crisis. Kinnect was awarded a Victims of Crime Assistance (VOCA) grant with the goal of reducing the need for foster care by using family search and engagement.
The 30 Days to Family® Ohio Approach
Using the proven approach from the Institute for Child Welfare Innovation, 30 Days to Family® Ohio worked at the point of entry into foster care. Recognizing that many caseworkers lacked the time for extensive family search and engagement, 30 Days to Family® Ohio specialists worked in partnership with them as agency employees. Specialists served only two families at a time and sought to complete family search and engagement in 30 days. The goal was not only to identify caregivers but also to create a network of support with them. Specialists contacted all family members, believing that each had something to contribute. They believed that families—not agencies—were the experts on their own lives, and guided them in mapping all of their supports.
Program Implementation and Expansion
Kinnect built 30 Days to Family® Ohio as it unfolded. The rollout was ambitious: installation in nine counties over one year. The Kinnect team implemented the program in stages. With additional counties interested in replication, the first step was to have a solid exploration process. Exploration began with a fit assessment for each interested county; Ohio has a county-administered system, and experiences varied widely across counties. After Exploration, Kinnect moved into the installation phase, which included engagement with key stakeholders, hiring staff, and program model training. With each new county, the process became more defined.
The Transition to KTF
In the fall of 2021, 30 Days to Family® Ohio transformed into KTF, which maintains all the important approaches of 30 Days to Family® Ohio but expands eligibility for family search and engagement services. In counties that have implemented KTF, every family and child involved with the county’s child welfare system can now receive services regardless of their status or case timeline. This allows specialists to serve families prior to custody removal to prevent children from entering foster care when safe kin are willing to support them, as well as to serve children in permanent custody leading to permanency. In one case, two children whose parents were killed in a tragedy were able to live with an aunt rather than enter foster care. In another, a maternal great-grandmother and her partner were able to care for three young children with the support of paternal relatives.
The Impact of KTF
When implemented with fidelity, the impact of KTF is significant. An effectiveness evaluation showed that families served by the program are 2.5 times more likely to be cared for by family and are out of foster care and back with family in an average of 45 days. Children served by KTF demonstrate a 20% higher wellbeing rating. KTF specialists identify an average of 151 connections for every child served (to learn more, see the Kinnect Impact Report). Our state record for connections is 559. Agency directors praise the program. “We have experienced a 40% reduction in foster care placements since this program came to our county. Without this program and Kinnect, we wouldn’t be where we are today. We are really excited to see where we go from here,” one county director said. Another added, “Our specialist supports direct service staff. We are experiencing agency-wide change. Thank you for this program. This program is very beneficial for children.”
KTF Today: Continuing to Innovate
Today, 27 Ohio counties have implemented KTF—and it continues to innovate in the form of three pilot projects.
In the Branch Specialist pilot, KTF employs a specialist to provide intensive family search and engagement services to multiple counties in partnership with the local agency. This allows smaller counties with a small staff to take advantage of this innovation.
In the Ohio START pilot, a KTF specialist partners with Ohio START staff and family to build a network of support with the family, including relative caregivers in case they are needed. Ohio START is a model that serves parents with co-occurring substance use disorder and child welfare involvement by pairing a dedicated caseworker and family peer mentor to support the whole family.
KTF also continues to innovate through a Congregate Care Reduction pilot project, which expands access to KTF services to improve outcomes for youth in the most restrictive placements. The goal is to safely reduce the number of youth placed in congregate care and to ensure that families are empowered to support them as they transition back into their communities.
In addition to launching pilot projects, KTF is improving service to youth who identify as LGBTQ+. From 2017-2021, Kinnect partnered with Cuyahoga County Division of Children Family Services, Case Western Reserve University, and A Place for Me on Affirm Me. Affirm Me was a grant project through the national Quality Improvement Center on Tailored Services, Placement Stability, and Permanency for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Two-Spirit Children and Youth in Foster Care designed to improve outcomes for youth with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions (SOGIE) who are in out-of-home care. Kinnect implemented the Chosen Affirming Family Finding (CAFF) model, with the goal of helping youth build a robust network of affirming individuals who provide belonging, support, and emotional and legal permanency, as well as the Youth Acceptance Project (YAP), a prevention strategy for youth at risk of entering foster care due to rejection from their caregiver. Kinnect is currently integrating CAFF as a cultural adaptation across its programs as well as developing a Safe Affirmed Youth training series.
In 2020, Kinnect implemented OhioKAN, a kinship and adoption navigator program designed to support children, youth, and their families. Kinnect sought out the opportunity to design and implement OhioKAN to meet the needs of the kinship caregivers it was already serving through KTF, as well as other families.
Beyond programming that serves families directly, Kinnect also leveraged its expertise by launching Search, Engage, Explore, Kinnect (SEEK) Training in 2022. SEEK is a foundational course on Family Search and Engagement that brought these skills to over 550 child welfare staff in the first year. Kinnect is now developing a professional education continuum, KinnectU, by inviting external partners to join foundational courses with staff and developing new learning opportunities for both child welfare staff and other professionals who work with children. Find more information on Kinnect to Family at www.kinnect.org.
Shannon Deinhart is the executive director and co-founder of Kinnect. She has over 25 years of experience advancing kinship care, foster care, and adoption. She has led the way in advancing Family Search and Engagement efforts in Ohio, including implementing best practices in counties and the successful implementation of Kinnect to Family. Shannon led Kinnect’s partnership with the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, in the development and implementation of the Ohio Kinship and Adoption Navigator Program (OhioKAN). She has a Master of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University.
Stephanie Beleal is the program director for Kinnect to Family. She directed the successful implementation of Kinnect to Family (previously 30 Days to Family), in the initial 18 Ohio participating counties, as well as the expansion to additional counties. She has served as the program director for the statewide management and expansion of Youth Centered Permanency Roundtables (YCPRT). Stephanie is a Licensed Independent Social Worker who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Akron and a BA in Social Work from Malone University.
Cass Freeland is the marketing and communications manager at Kinnect. She has a background in communications, community relations, legislative affairs, and grassroots advocacy. She has worked for local and statewide nonprofits, in a K-12 school setting, and in the state legislature. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ohio University and a master’s in political science from the University of Akron.