Tracking the Process from Inquiry to Certification

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You already have the data

How many people contacted your agency last year to inquire about becoming foster/adoptive parents? Of those who made that initial contact, how many attended an orientation session? How many of those who completed MAPP training became certified foster parents?

To answer these questions, you need to determine the number of inquiries received from potential foster parents, the number who were certified, and the demographic characteristics of the families that completed the process. Agencies already collect this information in a variety of ways, however, many agencies have not assembled and analyzed the data in ways that help them address their recruitment and retention challenges.

If that is the case in your agency, the good news is that you probably already have much of the data you need. For example, most agencies keep a record of inquiries from members of the public who are interested in becoming foster parents. These inquiries can come in to the agency via phone, in person, e-mail, or an online form. On the initial form used by staff who receive these inquiries, the following types of data are usually collected:

Some agencies also ask how the inquirer learned about the need for foster parents (public service announcement, website, informational event, word of mouth, etc.).

Consider these key questions:

The importance of following up

After collecting its data, one agency found that a large percentage of individuals who inquired about becoming foster parents were never heard from again. The agency's practice in responding to an inquiry was to send a package of information in the mail and wait for a response. In the majority of cases, no response was received and the inquiry was abandoned.

Based on its review of the data, the agency initiated a practice that required a personal follow-up, either by phone or in person, with every potential foster parent who contacted the agency. The agency staff person who made the follow-up contact was prepared to answer questions about foster parenting and provide information about the next orientation session.

Within six months, the agency saw a significant increase in the number of inquirers who attended orientation and began the certification process.

Map your agency's certification process

Draw a simple diagram of the major milestones prospective foster families must complete on the path from inquiry to certification.

The number and sequence of these milestones will vary from one agency to another. For most, individuals who inquire about becoming foster parents are invited to attend an orientation or information session. The session roster usually includes the date of the session, names of attendees, and perhaps additional contact information.

MAPP training is typically the next step on the timeline to certification. These records include the names of those who attended trainings, the dates, and when they successfully completed the training.

Other steps on the path to certification include background checks for criminal history and home studies. Data is collected at each of these points. The final information to be recorded is the certification date for the foster home.

Small data sets can yield big results in tracking certification trends, training completion rates, etc. Below are some of the data elements your agency may already collect.

Data Elements Possible Sources
Date of Inquiry Log from phone and/or email
Referral source Inquiry form
Race/ethnicity of inquirer Inquiry form
Primary and secondary language Inquiry form
Location of inquirer Inquiry form
Orientation date Orientation sign-in sheets
Date application received Postmark or email record
Dates MAPP training started & completed Training sign-in sheets
Date fingerprinting results received Fingerprint report
Date home study competed Applicant file or CONNECTIONS
Certification date Applicant file or CONNECTIONS

Organize your data

While most agencies have this information, it often is kept in ways that make it difficult to analyze it and draw conclusions.

Agencies tend to have paper copies of inquiries stored in one area, while records of attendance at orientations or trainings are kept in another. Some agencies may not have found easy ways to keep records that follow each inquiry throughout the process and track the time it takes for each step.

Agencies recognize that organizing their data is essential before it can be used to drive recruitment strategies. When data elements are entered into a spreadsheet or database, it's possible to track the percentage of applicants who made it all the way through the process and how long it took for them to complete the process.

Local districts and voluntary agencies already maintain information regarding foster and adoptive homes in the Foster and Adoptive Home Development (FAD) stage in CONNECTIONS. OCFS guidance specifies that all of the information on prospective foster parent applicants acquired during the inquiry process and orientation process must be recorded in the FAD as early as possible, regardless of whether or not the home becomes fully certified or approved. The FAD checklist tracks key certification milestones, such as inquiry, orientation, application, training, home study and certification. This tracking helps agencies spot bottlenecks in the certification process, as well as analyze what proportion of inquiries result in certified homes (17-OCFS-ADM-05, Use of FAD in CONNECTIONS).

Some agencies use the Family Intake Tracking Tool (FITT) developed by AdoptUsKids. This online database is available free of charge to child welfare professionals, and is designed to make it easier for them to track foster/adoptive families throughout the certification process.

If you plan to use a spreadsheet to collect this information, it is crucial to group your data in a way that will simplify further analysis. In database terms, these groups are called "fields." Make sure each field is limited so the information is as specific as possible. Here's an example inquiry to certification data tracking spreadsheet.

Follow these steps to organize your data:

Step 1

Decide on a timeframe to review; one year is recommended.

Step 2

Assemble information on inquiries that have come in during the last 12 months. Enter the name of the family that inquired and date of inquiry. If possible, enter the referral source for each inquiry. Use one entry for each home represented by the inquiry (e.g., Jones, John & Jane), rather than making an entry for each individual in the home.

Step 3

Enter names and dates from the sign-in sheets used at orientation sessions held during the time period. Some names may correspond with inquirers and some may not already be in the chart. For example, some people may attend orientation because they were invited by someone or were told about the session through other means. How many inquirers attended an orientation session within 12 months? 

Step 4

Enter names and dates from the sign-in sheets for each MAPP/GPS training held during the time period. How many of those who attended orientation also attended the first MAPP class? On average, how long did it take to get from inquiry to the first MAPP training class?

As you continue to track participants over the course of the MAPP trainings, you will be able to determine how many people completed the training. How many families stopped attending classes? Is there a session where most people stop coming? Is the "drop out" rate consistent from course to course and trainer to trainer?

Step 5

Enter information from other milestones in the certification process, such as completion of the home study and final certification.

How to use inquiry-to-certification data

Recruiters know that not all of the individuals who make initial contacts with the agency will complete the process of being certified as foster parents. There is a gradual reduction in the number of people who inquire about foster parenting to the number who attend information sessions, and a similar drop in the number who submit applications and the number that begins MAPP training. This gradual reduction can be illustrated as a "funnel."

The rercuitment funnel

In the recruitment funnel, each cohort get smaller as you move from inquries to applicants to trainees to foster parents.

One goal of effective recruitment is to widen the bottom of the funnel. Families coming into the funnel should be those who are most likely to stay with the certification process and successfully foster a child. Keep in mind that there may be healthy self-selection out of the process; some prospective families may decide that becoming a foster parent is not for them. Also, your agency may not certify all applicants due to factors such as a problematic background check. The funnel gives an agency a lens for evaluating the numbers and characteristics of families that completed the certification process.

The entire Recruitment & Retention Team should be involved in analyzing the data. The analysis will naturally lead the team to ask some key questions, such as:

Often, these questions will reveal a need for more data or will help the agency target its recruitment efforts.

This support and retention worksheet is designed to help agencies organize and assess this data.

More user-friendly paperwork

One agency was happy to see that most of the prospective foster parents who started MAPP successfully completed the training. They were puzzled to learn, however, that only half of these families were eventually certified. A closer look at the data revealed that certification paperwork wasn't being submitted. This was partly due to unclear deadlines and complicated instructions. The agency developed a user-friendly Foster Parent Paperwork Checklist that was welcomed by applicants.

Earlier face-to-face home visits

Another agency also determined that a significant number of families completed MAPP training but did not become certified. A case review showed that, after training was complete, the agency conducted a home visit and found that applicants' homes were not safe or appropriate for children in foster care. In response, the county scheduled home visits at an earlier point in the overall process. These face-to-face meetings allowed staff to start to build a working relationship with the prospective foster parent, communicate the agency's expectations, see whether the home met physical and safety requirements, and discuss other sensitive issues that might prevent the family from being certified.

Locating bottlenecks in the process

Collecting data on the individuals who have contacted the foster care agency and then tracking it over time can reveal bottlenecks in the system.

Bottlenecks in the system are indicated when it takes an unreasonable period of time to complete a particular step. For example, you may find that it takes 18 months for the majority of applicants to be certified as foster parents. By tabulating the time required for each step of the process for all applicants, you discover that it takes an average of five months for a person to start MAPP training after they have submitted an application.

Involve key agency personnel to address the more challenging bottlenecks. Who needs to be around the table to discuss the current challenges and opportunities that may exist? Share the findings revealed by the data and suggest a meeting to discuss the issues.

The Customer Service for Retention and Support page has strategy suggestions for keeping prospective foster parents engaged in the process.

This project is funded by the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under a Cooperative Agreement, Grant Number 90CO-1109. The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Children's Bureau
NYS Office of Children and Family Services
Welfare Research, Inc.