Lost And Found

Lesley Stahl On Efforts To Place Foster Children Back With Their Families

This segment was originally broadcast on Dec. 17, 2006. It was updated on July 8, 2007.

They've been called some of the loneliest people on earth: children who were taken away from their parents due to neglect or abuse, but were never adopted by new families. Stranded in the child welfare system, they move from foster homes to group homes. There are tens of thousands of these children. They have no one – not a single relative to visit on Christmas or their birthday.

As correspondent Lesley Stahl reports first reported last December, there are now several cities across the country that are trying something new. It's called "family finding." The goal is to track down the families these children were taken away from in the first place to see if they can go home again.

Fourteen-year-old Samara has been in foster care her whole life and now lives at "Five Acres," a treatment center for troubled kids. Officials tell 60 Minutes she does well in school, but that she struggles with severe depression, despite years of therapy and medication.

Last Christmas, Samara admits she was in pretty bad shape and even tried to hurt herself. Asked what was going on inside of her, she tells Stahl, "'Cause the other kids. They used to go on visits with their family and all, and I was stuck at the house. Like for Christmas, everybody else was out."

Everyone was out with some relative but her.

"She was very suicidal, very self-harming," Marylou McGuirk, Samara's therapist, remembers.

"Is your analysis of her case that it was all stemming from the loss of her mother?" Stahl asks.

"I believe it was the loss of her family," McGuirk explains. "Not having a support system around her. And that trauma — was there was no healing process for that."

Kevin Campbell, who created and runs "Family Finding," went to Five Acres a year and a half ago to teach the staff how to find Samara's family.

"If the situation was so bad that the state had to take a child away from that home, why under any circumstances would the state put them back into that home?" Stahl asks Campbell.

"We may not be ever considering placing the child back in that home. What I'm looking for is 'Does he have an aunt or an uncle or a great-aunt or uncle who's safe with their kids and has done a good job and would be there for them,'" he says.

"What do you do when you find family members who say, 'No, I don't want anything to do with him or her?'" Stahl asks.

"What we do is keep moving. You're not done until you've found at least 40 relatives. Don't stop," Campbell explains. "The minimum first step is 40."

That seemed like a long shot, since Samara was considered a "cold case." Not a single relative was known.

The search began with just a few details about her mother. "I have her first name, we think an accurate spelling, a middle initial and a last name. We think she was in Culver City, Calif. We think that she's 27 years old," he explains.

That's all they had. And yet, with the help of a company called "U.S. Search," they were able to find not only Samara's mother, but a virtual family tree.

Within two hours, the search yielded 44 family members.

This is the family Samara knew nothing about, until Family Finding came into her life. There was a family reunion, with barbecue and music.

But unused to affection and belonging, Samara felt uncomfortable. She was taken away from her mother when she was only 10 months old on charges of neglect and now she was meeting the relatives she had yearned for, as if in a dream.

She met them all, including her great grandmother, grandparents, cousins, and aunts; for Samara, the hugging was overwhelming.

There were over 40 relatives in all.

"I was really, really scared, 'cuz I get really scared around a lot of people. And like when I was walking up the stairs, I almost like threw up," Samara explains.

Through Family Finding, Samara also met her mother Lakesha. Three months before the barbecue party, she got a call from Family Finding asking if she wanted to see Samara.

"And I said, 'Of course. I'm like I've been wanting it for years you know,'" she remembers.