MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ is an innovative foster care delivery model that creates an intentional microcommunity, akin to that of an extended family. The model unites six to ten foster/ kinship families living in close proximity to a central, experienced foster family (Hub) that provides support to the entire group. We call that a constellation. In Washington state, we have 16 Mockingbird Family constellations, with each constellation supporting 6-18 youth. This is a more effective system that keeps foster parents around longer and, more importantly, better supports youth because of the stability it provides.
Not only does the model provide stability for youth in care, but it also creates strong bonds with adults, which leads to a deeper sense of belonging for young people who often feel disconnected. MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ even reports better sibling interactions and birth family connections. In fact, 7% say that they have too much contact with their siblings! We see that in our state, Mockingbird Family has a 92% foster parent retention rate whereas nationwide retention rates hover between 40-63%. The improved retention of foster parents is likely linked to the many forms of support they receive. One big factor is respite care, which is always available in the ‘Hub Home.” Respite care means that there is always a place available for youth to go in case of family emergencies, or even if youth and foster parents simply need a break. It is akin to going to stay at grandma’s house. Two-thirds of foster families participating in constellations said that accessing respite care had “always been a challenge” prior to entering a Mockingbird Family.
MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ hasn’t always been what it is today. When Fernando Clara — Mockingbird’s Director of Practice Innovation — first began at Mockingbird, the question that was always raised was, “How long can we continue sustaining the program?” The Mockingbird Society had always provided the consultation and technical assistance needed to maintain constellations within Washington state, but they had never been compensated for their time until now. That’s why Fernando Clara says it means a lot for us to receive funding this legislative session.
Today, MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ has been implemented more broadly globally than it has in our own state, but Fernando says we are finally catching up. He tells me he “would love to have MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ in all child welfare agencies” within Washington state, because whenever there is partnership between child welfare agencies and families, relationships are built, and families feel better supported. The Mockingbird Society’s mission is to transform foster care and end youth homelessness and, because of this expansion, we are now one step closer.