New York’s children and youth who are placed into foster care have the right to live in a safe, nurturing, healthy, and suitable residence where they are treated fairly and with respect. This principle was reaffirmed when the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) released the “Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in Foster Care” in December 2014. The majority of these children and youth are cared for by foster parents, including kinship foster parents, who are the key to making this “right” a reality. (See Appendix 1-1: Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in Foster Care.)
Foster parents take the responsibility to care for children who are abused, neglected, and traumatized. They are often the first step in helping children heal and cope with the new reality of their lives. In turn, local social services districts (local districts) and voluntary agencies are responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting foster parents. The system is expected to provide a pool of qualified foster parents who are able to accommodate the needs of children and youth in placement.
To meet that expectation, each agency must have a robust recruitment and retention program for foster/adoptive families.
Based on data and anecdotal evidence from service providers, there is a gap between the number of foster/adoptive families available and the needs of children coming into foster care. Many children coming into care have experienced repeated and longterm trauma in their young lives, resulting in a range of difficult behaviors and developmental problems. The needs of these children require that agency staff have the tools they need to serve children, foster families, and birth families. The system must be more strategic and innovative in its approach to recruitment and retention of foster/adoptive families.
Children of color continue to be disproportionately represented in the foster care system. Disproportionality rates show varying improvement in the United States, but troubling gaps remain. According to one report, “[Children of color] wait far longer than Caucasian children for adoption, and are at far greater risk of never experiencing an adoptive home (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, May 2014).” The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA) and its associated amendments require that a pool of foster/adoptive homes be available to decrease the length of time children wait to be adopted. It requires that states must diligently recruit foster and adoptive parents who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of children who need homes. It is the basis for New York State’s requirement that local districts and voluntary agencies involved in recruiting foster/adoptive parents provide periodic recruitment and retention plans to OCFS.
Needs for specific types of foster homes vary among jurisdictions and fluctuate over time. It is important for local districts and voluntary agencies to collect and analyze data frequently to identify trends and reassess needs related to the availability of foster/adoptive homes for children with specific cultural and ethnic backgrounds, older youth, sibling groups, and children with special physical and behavioral needs.
This resource offers strategies for child welfare professionals in New York State and elsewhere who are looking for more effective ways to find and keep foster/adoptive families. It is a compilation of research, publications, and practice models that may be helpful in the process of reimagining recruitment and retention programs at the local level.
These summaries were prepared with the understanding that there is no one size-fits-all model for agencies across the state. There are, however, promising practices that have resulted in successful outcomes, and a range of resource materials based on research and experience.
In general, the most successful programs use more targeted and child-focused recruitment strategies, with less focus on general strategies, such as public service announcements and billboards. These approaches require new techniques such as data analysis, social media, and “case mining” in order to succeed. However, they also emphasize long-held principles such as:
Other characteristics of successful programs include:
Effective recruitment and retention practices are agency-wide responsibilities and they should be agency-wide priorities. Everyone on staff, from the receptionist to the agency director, should be committed to supporting prospective and current foster/adoptive families, and responding quickly and appropriately to their needs.
A significant message that emerges from many of these resources is that good retention leads to good recruitment. Foster/adoptive and kinship parents who feel respected and valued for their work with children are more likely to stay in the program. Experienced, well-supported foster/adoptive parents become natural recruiters in their communities. The ultimate benefit is high-quality, appropriate, and consistent care for children and youth in need.