Tracking the process from inquiry to certification

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:
  • Date of the inquiry
  • Name of inquirer
  • Primary language of the inquirer
  • Race/ethnicity of the inquirer
  • ZIP code of the inquirer
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:
  • What types of data does your agency collect at inquiry?
  • Where is this information stored?
  • Would it be helpful to collect additional data?
  • If so, what?
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.

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. Read more . . .

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.

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.