Why is this work important?


Even the most robust foster care programs can face challenges in recruiting and retaining foster/adoptive families. When your agency finds it does not have enough foster homes to meet the current demand, your first instinct may be to redouble your efforts to do more of the recruitment activities you've always done. But perhaps there is a better way. A careful look at data related to recruitment and retention of foster homes will help you create a roadmap to guide future actions.

Before you work harder, dive into your data and see if there's a way to work "smarter."

The analysis of recruitment and retention data helps you create a strategy tailored to fit the needs of your agency. You can then base your recruitment decisions on accurate and complete information, reducing "guesswork" and reliance on anecdotes.
 

An agency needed to certify more foster parents as quickly as possible to meet increasing demand. Staff began planning to double the number of general recruitment sessions to be presented at a local community center. But … staff then decided to take a careful look at their data to see if there might be other, more effective options. They discovered that 50 percent of the prospective families who completed MAPP training did not become certified. They then contacted each of these families over the prior three MAPP cycles to find out why. The staff found that the most common barrier was difficulty in completing the required paperwork. Small group sessions were formed to help the parents complete the paperwork, and in just a couple of months, the agency was able to certify more foster parents than they would have found through additional community presentations. And the foster parents were already trained!

Foster care staff were concerned that although they had open foster homes, they still had trouble placing some of the children coming into care. Before holding their next scheduled event at the local library, they took a step back and looked at the data. A review of placement records showed that a significant percentage of the children needing homes were part of sibling groups of three or four children. Half of these sibling groups included teens.

Based on this data, the agency changed its strategy. First, staff held "coffee and dessert" events for current foster parents to explain the need for homes for sibling groups. Foster parents were asked to consider accepting these groups, perhaps starting as weekend respite providers. Agency staff and selected foster parents also made a presentation at a high school Parent Teacher Organization meeting, with the goal of recruiting foster parents who were familiar with teens.

It's worth the effort

Some might argue that foster care agencies don't have the time or the staff to devote to data-driven recruitment. But it also can be argued that foster care agencies can't afford not to devote time to data collection and analysis. Read more. . . .

In the middle of a routine day, a Child Protective Services worker knocks on the door and says, "We have four siblings coming into care this afternoon and have to find homes for them." Everyone drops everything and heads for the Rolodex, the spreadsheet, or whatever lists of foster parents they have. Which homes can take siblings? Which will take teens? Are there other foster children already in the home? Which homes will keep the children within their neighborhood, school, faith community, and social connections?

For one thing, agencies that know their data are better able to match the children coming into care with appropriate foster parents. For children in care, better matching of placements has been connected with improved placement stability. Placement stability is a key factor in increasing the probability that children's educational, physical, and mental health needs are properly addressed. Foster parents also benefit from appropriate matching, as it may increase their satisfaction and their willingness to continue as foster care providers.

When information about the characteristics and preferences of foster families are kept up-to-date, the caseworker can search for families by categories such as geographic location, ages of children, or expertise with special needs. This assists in identifying foster homes that are more likely to be a good match for the child in care.

There are other benefits as well. When collected systematically over a period of time, data can also reveal the answers to key questions, such as:

  • What are the strengths and gaps of our current recruitment process?
  • Are there bottlenecks along the path from inquiry to certification?
  • How do the characteristics of available foster homes compare with those of children in need of care? For example, what are the primary languages spoken by current children in care and how does that compare to languages spoken by current foster parents?
  • What is the retention rate for our foster parents?

While this approach requires an up-front investment of staff time, it can lead to more efficient deployment of staff, more targeted marketing, and better retention of foster parents. It's a win-win when decisions are based on data rather than "jumping to solutions" before problems are accurately identified.