Vol. 7, No. 1• November 2002

Retention: An Integral Part of Recruitment

by Sara West

When we recruit families to be foster or adoptive parents we must remember to put forth more effort to retain them than it took to recruit them.

Before You Begin

Prior to recruiting new families it is necessary to establish a system of assessing the satisfaction of current families. Satisfying your current customers is important, because word of mouth can be your most effective tool in recruitment, both formal and informal. If your present customers are unhappy, then any recruitment efforts will be poisoned by an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. If they are completely satisfied with the services rendered by your agency, then you are ready to recruit.

Tracking families’ satisfaction with the system should start before recruitment, continue throughout the foster care experience, and extend into post-adoption.

Recruiting Parents

Recruitment campaigns should be carefully thought out. Data should be accumulated about the children in care and projections must be made based on the data collected regarding the types of children that the agency anticipates will come into care. Job descriptions for foster parents and adoptive parents are essential to avoid any confusion about expectations.

Recruitment slogans and information should reflect the needs of the agency and agency expectations of foster and adoptive families. If this is not done, then you do not have “truth in advertising” and run the risk of recruiting people you do not need. In order to have a good public image of your program, the agency wants people who can be successful in meeting the needs of the children in care and the expectations of the agency. The agency can then enhance the relationship with both individual and public positive reinforcement.

Your recruitment efforts should involve the community through the use of committees whose members are representative of all parts of your community. This will enable you to create a strong foundation for support of potential foster and adoptive parents. It is especially important to have representation on your committees from the communities from whence children most frequently enter foster care.

The Multiethnic Placement Act/Interethnic Adoption Provisions requires child welfare services programs “to provide diligent recruitment of foster and adoptive families that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of children in the State for whom foster and adoptive homes are needed.” Not only is this the law, it is good practice. Good practice means that we make every effort to keep children in communities where they can maintain connections with their family, school, and friends. Research shows that children who maintain frequent contact with their connections are more likely to be reunited with their families (Fanshel & Shinn, 1978) and are more likely to have a positive self-esteem (Weinstein, 1960).

Keeping Interest Alive

Once parents have been recruited, maintain their interest throughout the preparation and assessment process. This can be accomplished by face-to-face contact with the social worker, telephone contact, sending written materials, suggesting books related to foster care and adoption, assigning a foster parent buddy willing to involve the applicant in family activities, and getting the applicant involved in the N.C. Foster Parents Association.

Being able to begin the preparation and assessment process, either through offering a timely MAPP-GPS group or the course Deciding Together, is essential. Involving the applicants in a mutual decision process shows teamwork and a respect for the applicant. Retention occurs whenever people feel involved, respected, appreciated, and valued as a member of a team of professionals working together to create permanence for children. During this process the parents will meet all of the nonnegotiable requirements and work on other areas related to the twelve skills necessary for successful foster or adoptive parenting.

Once the family and the agency reach a mutual decision about the readiness of the family to foster or adopt, placement plans can be made. This may involve listing the family for either foster care or adoption, or it may mean the placement of a child.

Retention and Child Placement

The placement of a child brings on additional retention responsibilities. Working as a team means making the extra effort to include birth families, foster and adoptive families, and other involved persons in decision making. Support of foster and adoptive families includes—but is not limited to—consultation about the child and the case plan, in-service training, respite care, reimbursement for cost of care/adoption subsidy, recognition, support groups, and post adoption services (Craig-Oldsen, 1999).

Our work does not end once an adoption placement is made. Resources must be created to support families as they continue over time to care for children who have endured many losses and bear the scars of abuse and neglect. These resources include the financial and medical incentives already in place. They also include resources such as newsletters updating the parents on recent literature regarding special needs of adopted children, support groups, and creative ways of helping children maintain the connections so essential to their identity.

Managing Transitions

When it is time for a child to leave foster care, attention needs to be given to preparing the child, the foster family (including the foster parent’s birth children), and the birth family. The adoptive family also needs preparation when the child is moving toward adoption. Life books need to be completed and permission for the child to move needs to be obtained from the significant persons in the child’s life. Moving is a partnership effort and when care is taken to make the transition a planned one, retention of foster and adoptive families is more likely to occur.

Once the child is moved, the next step is to assess the strengths and needs of the former placement and make plans for strengthening and maintaining your partnership with this foster family.

These steps are reflected in the Recruitment and Retention Model developed by the Child Welfare Institute and found in the curriculum Measure Twice, Cut Once: Using MEPA/IEP to Assess and Develop Foster Family Recruitment and Retention Strategies.

Sara N. West is a program consultant with the Children’s Services Section of the N.C. Division of Social Services.

The Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, Public Law 103-382-Oct. 20, 1994

Fanshel, D. & Shinn, E. (1978). Children in foster care: A longitudinal investigation. New York: Columbia University Press.

Weinstein, E. (1960). The self-image of the foster child. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Craig-Oldsen, H. (1999). Measure twice, cut once (curriculum). Atlanta, Georgia: Child Welfare Institute.

Copyright 2002 Jordan Institute for Families