Relative Search and Notification

Why Conduct a Relative Search?

The requirement for conducting a Relative Search is supported by Public Law 110-351, Fostering Connections to Success. This Federal law requires that child welfare agencies throughout the United States notify all adult relatives when a child is removed from parental custody.

When a child or youth is removed from their home and enters state care either through a Voluntary Placement Agreement or court intervention, the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) is required to notify all adult relatives within 30 days. The statewide Relative Search Unit is tasked with identifying potential relative support for all children and youth whom DCYF has legal custody regardless of whether the child is placed in relative, suitable other, or foster care placement.

Who's Considered a Relative in Washington State?

Under the Federal law, each state has been permitted to define what a relative means/is.  As explained in RCW 74.15.020, Washington state requires that DCYF must notify all relatives that are able to be identified, within three degrees of relationship. This means that the persons related to a child, include but are not limited to, siblings (including adoptive and stepfamily members), aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents.  

The search for relatives begins with a Relative Search Specialist conducting a thorough search of potential relatives. Every identified adult relative, using the search tools available, is mailed a Relative Inquiry letter, and asked to complete a short questionnaire confirming their relationship to the child and to express the level of support they are interested in providing.

How Can a Relative Support a Child or Youth Placed in State Care?

Research confirms, and DCYF policy and Washington’s RCWs prioritizes, that relatives are often the best resource for children. Under federal and state law, relatives have the option to participate in the planning, placement, and well-being of the child. Examples of other involvement include: 

  • Providing placement now or in the future
  • Providing transportation to visits, court hearings or other required services 
  • Providing respite (a short break for foster parents/relatives caring for the child)
  • Completing family history when a parent is unavailable to help identify any special behavioral, health, or educational needs for the child
  • Assisting in family time (supervised visits between the parents and child)
  • Celebrating milestones and holidays
  • Identifying other relatives

Have You Received a Relative Search Inquiry Letter?

  • Respond to the letter by completing the online form
  • For questions regarding a Relative Search Inquiry letter or to verify the authenticity of a relative search letter you received from DCYF, view our Relative Search staff list
  • Call or email the Relative Search Specialist listed in your letter to learn about ways you can support and be involved
  • Relative search will continue through the life of a case until reunification or permanency is found