Mockingbird Family Model, Washington State and Other Locations
This is one of 31 program profiles that appears in Support Matters, Lessons from the Field on Services for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Care Families (PDF – 2 MB), published March 2015.
In the Mockingbird Family Model, a licensed foster or respite family (known as a hub home) provides support to six to 10 satellite families caring for children in or at risk of entering foster care. Together the hub home and satellite families are known as a constellation that serves as a mutual support network.
Families of children of any age who are in foster care or at risk of entering foster care. The hub-home family is an experienced, licensed foster or respite family. The satellite families are most often foster families, but can also include pre-adoptive families, kinship care families, and birth parent families. Each satellite home has about one to three children.
In 2010, the program served about 200 children and youth in 72 families in sites around the United States.
Theory of Change
If foster and other families have a supportive community around them, they are better able to meet the needs of the children and youth in their care.
The Mockingbird Family Model was created by the Mockingbird Society, a nonprofit in Washington state that advocates for foster care reform, supports youth leaders, and shares information about the Mockingbird Family Model.
The Mockingbird Family Model is being replicated in the following areas:
- 6 sites in Washington state
- 3 sites in Kentucky
- 8 sites in Washington, D.C.
- Blackfeet Nation in Montana
Other sites across the United States are currently in the process of implementing the model.
Each program must be operated by a family support, foster parent licensing, or child-placing agency (known as a host agency). The host agency operates the program, including providing oversight; ensuring the hub home has information about all of the children and youth in the constellation; offering training and support to the hub home family and all satellite families; and participating in training and leadership meetings with the Mockingbird Society.
Role of Public Child Welfare Agency
State, county, or tribal child welfare agencies fund most of the program costs in each community. The child welfare agencies also provide social work supervision to the families, coordinate constellation and other meetings with the families, and whenever possible arrange for children or youth to be placed within the constellation if a crisis or placement disruption occurs.
Key Service Components
In the Mockingbird Family Model, a constellation of six to 10 foster, kinship, birth, or adoptive families (satellite families) receive support from an experienced foster family (the hub home) and from one another. The hub-home family offers the following services:
- Peer mentoring and coaching
- Planned and crisis respite care for children in the satellite families; planned respite is available almost 24 hours per day, seven days a week
- Training, with topics and sessions arranged based on the needs of the participating families and children and youth, as well as the required training to retain a foster parent license
- Help accessing other support and services the children, youth, and families need (system navigation)
- Communicating with satellite families weekly, every two weeks, or monthly depending on the family’s needs
- Monthly constellation meetings
- Coordination of recreational and cultural activities for children and youth in the constellation
- Coordination of planned and impromptu social activities
- Support for the implementation of a child’s permanent plan
The hub-home family receives a monthly retainer from the child welfare agency operating the program.
Outreach efforts to engage families in the Mockingbird Family Model include recruitment events, talking with current caregivers to connect them with the program, child welfare agency staff outreach to particular families in need, and word of mouth among foster caregivers.
The host agency must assign a case manager or social worker to each constellation. This case manager performs the same duties and provides the same service they would to any foster family. The hub home is able to serve as a liaison between the case manager and the other families in the constellation.
The satellite home families receive a full day of orientation on the philosophy and features of the Mockingbird Family Model. Mockingbird provides a manual about the program and its services for both the hub and satellite families and for the host agency. Families in the hub home receive an additional half- or full-day training on the role and responsibilities of the hub home.
Before implementing the program, host agencies receive training and implementation support from the Mockingbird Society. The amount of training depends on the scope of the program being created.
Evaluation and Outcomes
The University of Washington School of Social Work’s Northwest Institute for Children and Families evaluated the Mockingbird Family Model from 2004 to June 2007.
In addition, each year the Mockingbird Society collects data on child safety, permanency, and well-being.
In its evaluations for 2005 and 2006, the University of Washington evaluation found the Mockingbird Family Model:
- Protected the stability of placements
- Preserved connections with the child’s community and heritage
- Prevented disruptions by offering respite care (based on reports from caregivers)
- Reduced caregivers’ isolation
- Provided children and youth with opportunities for social interaction with other children in similar life situations
Annual program outcomes for 2009 include:
- There were no founded allegations of abuse or neglect in Mockingbird Family Model constellations.
- Hub-home caregivers provided more than 13,000 hours of respite care.
- 21 percent of children in Mockingbird Family Model constellations achieved their permanency goals.
- 83 percent of children in the Mockingbird Family Model had no placement moves unrelated to their permanency plan during the year.
- Constellations retained 88 percent of caregivers, compared to national estimates of 30 to 50 percent retention rates.
The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare was not able to rate the Mockingbird Family Model because there were no published peer-reviewed research studies on the program.
The current retainer for a hub-home family serving basic foster care families is $30,000; the retainer for those serving specialized treatment foster care families is $50,000. Other program costs include the casework by the host agency.
Programs are funded in various ways, with most program costs covered by state child welfare funds. Medicaid covers some services to children. At this point, funding the hub home requires a dedicated funding source. In Washington state, the legislature and Children’s Administration has provided funding for the hub home.
Partnerships Required or Recommended
To implement the Mockingbird Family Model, child welfare agencies must work with the Mockingbird Society during the implementation process.
The Mockingbird Family Model encourages the local community to rally around or “adopt” a constellation in each particular area, creating what is known as a resource bank to support the foster families.
If a hub home leaves the program, it can be difficult to find another local foster family with the same level of experience and willingness to lead the constellation. When a hub home leaves, staff immediately begin recruitment of a new hub home both within the constellation and in the general foster parent community.
Since the Mockingbird Family Model is a new way to organize and structure the delivery of foster care, financing the support of the hub home presents a challenge. The current opportunity in Washington state to take the Mockingbird Family Model to scale will provide critical learning regarding the benefits to children, youth, and families as well as the value of restructuring funding.
The Mockingbird Family Model was created in 2004 with federal funding for a pilot program in Washington state. The number of sites and families involved has increased every year since then.
The Mockingbird Society continues to help local communities across the country implement the program.
- Degale Cooper, director of family programs, or Jim Theofelis, executive director, Mockingbird Society: 206-323-5437
- Mockingbird Society website.
- Lauren Frederick, interview, June 20, 2013.
- The Mockingbird Society website, accessed July 9, 2014.
- The Mockingbird Society, “The Mockingbird Family Model: An Innovative Approach for Child
- Welfare Reform” (2010).
- The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare, accessed July 9, 2014
- The Mockingbird Society, “Mockingbird Family Model: 2009 Management Report on Program
- Outcomes January 1 to December 31, 2009” (2010).
- Northwest Institute for Children and Families, “Mockingbird Family Model Year Two Evaluation Report” (2006).
- Northwest Institute for Children and Families, “Mockingbird Family Model Year Three Evaluation Report” (2007).