My Grandmother’s Hankie

A bit tattered and worn, a small piece of cloth has held my attention for some years now.  My grandmother was an amazing woman who spent her 88 years on this earth as a beloved child care provider for countless children in her community.  Grandmother loved little babies and she was a safe person for the little ones in her care.

My Grandmother's Hankie
My Grandmother’s Hankie

I do not recall my grandmother’s hankies from my own childhood, yet here I am, holding this prized piece of fabric.  I had accidentally lost this hankie after my grandfather’s funeral, which put me into hysterics.  Thankfully, a compassionate hotel worker sent it to me in the mail after finding it in the parking lot where it must have fallen out of my bag.  It has since wiped away many of my own tears and been a source of comfort in difficult times.

Family Search and Engagement

The hankie came out yesterday during a training for caseworkers about Family Search and Engagement for youth’s in foster care.  I was struck by the emotion that often rolls around in my body for our foster babies that have limited or no connections with their biological family or friends that have been a part of their life prior to care.  Here I was wiping away tears with my grandmother’s hankie, thinking about the fact that some of our children don’t even have photos of their parents, siblings, or any other relatives.  Something has to change.

In the age of Twitter and Facebook, we are crazy to assume these children will not find their biological relatives.  Not only that, children should not be the ones who shoulder the burden of locating their biological family.  We owe it to our foster youth to locate as many people as possible to help them create lifelong permanent connections.

All too common are the stories of youths emancipating out of foster care with nowhere to go, no network of support, and no place to call home.  Using family search and engagement strategies for these children will support them in their foster homes even if those individuals cannot be a placement option.  Just because Aunt Susie’s apartment doesn’t have enough bedrooms to pass a home study doesn’t mean we write Aunt Susie off as a relative resource.  Aunt Susie may be able to safely support this youth by attending school or activity events, helping with homework, transportation to counseling appointments, providing respite, or a million other tangible ways.

Child Welfare Professionals

I encourage you to find resources to assist with Family Search and Engagement.  I thought I was doing a “pretty good job” until I received Family Search and Engagement training.  What I discovered is, I am miserably failing these children when I do not continue to  discover and engage family from the moment of intake until children have a forever home.   This is not only best practice but it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to build lifelong supports for these children.  Share this information with your colleagues.

Mike Kenney, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Waiting Child Fund recommended protective workers start with a minimum of 40 names to search, locate 12 people to play a role in the child’s life, identify 3 to step forward as permanent placement options, and then choose the 1 best option.  You can find out more about the Waiting Child Fund at

Foster and Adoptive Caregivers

Be open to communication with the biological relatives.  Be focused on the best interest of the children.  They need you to acknowledge their history, both the good and the challenging.  Let your protective worker guide you as you build relationships with biological family members or kinfolk who have history with this child.  This will only expand your support and help the child to settle while in your care.

Foster Youth

If you are a youth in foster care and you are reading this, I am so glad you are here.  Help your protective worker out by thinking through all the important people in your life.  They do not have to be related to you.  They may be previous neighbors, your best friends parents, teachers, camp counselors, coaches, relatives you haven’t seen in a while, or even family members that have moved away.


Download this resource guide, Six Steps to Finding a Family: A Practice Guide For Family Search and Engagement.  This guide was developed by The National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice and Permanency Planning, The California Permanency for Youth Project and written by Mardith J. Louisell.   You can find the resource guide at:

3 thoughts on “My Grandmother’s Hankie

  1. Thank you for this article. When we fostered our first (and only so far) child, I was completely focused on him and his well-being. I was resistant to engaging his biological family. We since have adopted him, and we don’t have any contact with his family. However, through this experience I have seen the importance of involving his biological family as much as possible.

    1. Consider that there may be relatives yet to be unearthed that could be a very healthy connection for your son (people who look like him, act like him, smell like him… etc…). You are his forever family, but some day you will have to answer questions about his bio family regardless of how you handle it now.

      Sometimes it is the relative that no longer has contact with the bio parents that is your best resource for a long term “extended family” connection. I understand the resistance, it can be frightening and worrisome initially, but I have found that children do so much better when there is healthy communication between foster and biological parents, even if the outcome is severance of parental rights versus reunification. Bless you in your journey!!!

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