Well-Supported Foster Parents Can Help Agencies with Recruitment and Retention
by Wanda Douglas •
Recruiting and retaining foster parents is never going to be easy. Becoming a foster parent requires a lot of time and energy. So does being a foster parent. But it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime.
Foster parents know this better than anyone, which is why—if they get the support they need—they can be powerful partners in agency efforts to recruit and retain resource families.
Foster Parent Leaders
When foster parents get the support they need, some will step up to help their agencies recruit and retain more foster families. One of the most powerful ways they can do this is by helping lead training and continuing education opportunities.
Let me give you an example. Recently, I was teaching MAPP. At the end of the class, I told the parents if they ever needed me or had any questions, to please call or email me.
One did. When she got her first placement, she had questions and just wanted someone to talk it through with. I listened, supported, and encouraged her.
Last week I was teaching another MAPP class when she came to visit. With hugs and tears, she explained that because of our conversation, she was able to get through her placement issue and continue moving forward. She ended by saying she got a new job supporting the work we do with foster families and our faith-based community leaders. In fact, a couple she knows well is in the class I am teaching right now.
I have been asked so many times, How did you get started? Where should I start? What has it been like for you and your family? I have even heard, I have been thinking about fostering but wanted to talk with someone who had fostered first.
Whether you are in front of a classroom or not, word of mouth is an important way to help with recruitment.
A Trauma-Informed Approach Matters
Foster parents cannot change what has happened to children. But they can do something about the way they respond to children when they come into care. A trauma-informed approach enables foster parents to focus more on the experiences of the children in their care as opposed to just their behaviors.
It is a skill to be able to understand that most children just want to be seen and heard and not just calmed down for a moment. Trauma-informed training teaches this skill, allowing parents to see what has happened to the child versus what is “wrong” with the child. When they can take a trauma-informed approach, not only are foster parents better able to help children, but I believe they are more likely to continue fostering.
Foster Parent Needs
To attract and sustain foster parents, agencies must understand what they need. There are no tricks or magic formulas. Timing, transparency, and open, honest conversations are all key. So are the following factors.
1. Continuing education. TIPS-MAPP and other pre-service curricula are designed to help people make an informed decision about whether to become a foster parent. Although they mention trauma, these courses do not teach trauma-informed care or the skills and knowledge parents actually need to look after children and teens in foster care.
Once the licensing process is complete, parents want and need education on many different subjects. In-service training is where the most important training needs must be met. The training agencies provide foster parents after licensure should be timely, high quality, and ongoing.
2. Respite. This is an absolute necessity to the retention of foster parents. When parents are provided an opportunity to just take a moment to breathe, to rest from the day-to-day, it provides them with the strength they need to continue the work they do.
3. Recognition. Every person wants to be recognized for their efforts. Foster parents are no exception. A card, a certificate of appreciation, a lunch—any expression of gratitude goes a long way and helps parents feel valued.
4. Relationship. It is critically important for the agencies to know their parents personally. If agencies want foster parents to deliver quality service to the youth and families, a cookie-cutter approach to partnering with and supporting resource families will not work in the long term.
Taking the time to develop a quality relationship with foster parents helps children. When foster parents feel their agency knows them, they will be more open and more willing to express their needs and share what’s working and what’s not.
5. Respect. Parents must know that the agency they represent truly cares about them and the work they do. Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Agencies must demonstrate that they value foster parents and their many efforts.
6. Timely, concrete support. Foster parents can face challenges in so many areas: behaviors of youth in care, communication with social workers, stress related to court, transportation, shared parenting—the list goes on. If agencies cannot provide meaningful support when it is needed, they will find it hard to hang on to good parents.
Sabrina Clark, someone I have trained with in the past, says, “The foundation of both successful recruitment and retention strategies must involve true caring, compassion, and empathy for not only our youth in custody, but also those being recruited and retained for their care.” I could not agree more.
Wanda Douglas is a veteran foster and adoptive parent in North Carolina.
Some Courses Currently Co-Taught by NC Foster Parents
In some agencies, the following courses are co-taught by foster parents.
The RPC Curriculum. This course, officially called “Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma: A Workshop for Resource Parents,” is designed to be co-facilitated by a mental health/child welfare professional and foster parent. It includes nine case studies of foster children from the ages of eight months to 15 years, as well as cases of secondary traumatic stress in parents. This is a very impactful training because many children in foster or kinship care have a history of exposure to trauma. To learn more: https://bit.ly/2pRENLz
Helping Youth Reach Self-Sufficiency. This is a great experiential training that provides foster parents with the skills to go back into their communities and teach other foster parents how to equip youth aging out of foster care with the skills they need to live independently. To learn more: https://bit.ly/2vE77Yf
TIPS-MAPP (Trauma Informed Partnering for Safety and Permanence: Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Most of North Carolina’s child-placing agencies use TIPS-MAPP to provide the mandatory 30 hours of training for prospective resource families. If this course is delivered as intended—co-led in true partnership by a foster parent and a child welfare professional—agencies may have a much better chance of retaining licensed parents. To learn more visit: https://bit.ly/2pQgZb3