In addition to kin-first recruitment, agencies may adopt other approaches that focus on specific children coming into foster care. Child-focused recruitment uses intensive, tailored techniques to create permanency for youth for whom it has traditionally been difficult to find homes. Child-focused recruitment models vary in their implementation approach, but share these components:
The philosophy of Wendy's Wonderful Kids (WWK) is "Unadoptable is Unacceptable." The program's goal is to increase adoptions from foster care, focusing on children for whom it has been traditionally difficult to find families: older children, groups of siblings, and children with physical or emotional disorders. WWK adoption specialists employ exhaustive, aggressive and accountable child-focused recruitment activities, resulting in older children served by the program being three times more likely to be adopted.
Extreme Recruitment, also serving children for whom it has been difficult to find homes, has been described by its creators as a race to find permanency for a child in a fraction of the time it would normally take. During 12-20 weeks of intensive recruitment efforts, Extreme Recruiters utilize general, targeted and child-specific recruitment strategies concurrently. Unique to this model, a private investigator is hired to work alongside the recruitment specialist to find relatives through internet tools, court databases, and "old-fashioned detective work."
Utilizing data in child-focused recruitment efforts maximizes the chances of establishing permanency for children. In addition to collecting and analyzing all available case information to help focus recruitment efforts, child-focused recruitment has another key source: children and youth themselves. A skillfully administered child assessment tool can build a portfolio of data about the child, including relationships important to establishing permanency. Collecting information from children or youth, their families, and the people important to them uncovers connections that are more likely to lead to permanency. Child-focused recruitment models, summarized at the end of this chapter, have created sophisticated data collection tools and methods to maximize the depth and quality of information collected with the youth.
Case file mining (or "relationship mining") has been found by many jurisdictions to contribute to successful adoptions and other forms of permanency. Case mining includes an exhaustive review of a child's existing files to examine factors such as:
Significant people could include child welfare workers, foster parents, attorneys, Court Appointed Special Advocates, teachers, therapists, relatives, mentors, faith-based representatives, and extracurricular activity leaders (Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 2014). It could even include people like parents of other children in a child's class where the child went for sleepovers or after-school care providers who knew the child. Any connections the child has had, no matter how briefly mentioned in the case record or by the child, may be potential permanency resources or sources of information about other people who have been important to the child in their past.
The review should leave no stone unturned; even scraps of paper, letters, phone messages, and incomplete information may later lead to a potential adoptive family. A thorough case record review is best completed by a specialist in case mining (or child-focused recruitment) and may take several days.
Case file mining is labor intensive and therefore is primarily used by agencies for children for whom targeted recruitment and less intensive child-specific recruitment have not resulted in a permanency resource. Agencies typically assess their caseloads to determine which children would most benefit from child-specific recruitment strategies. For example, these could include children who have been in foster care for a long period of time (defined by the agency); children who have adoption or Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as their permanency goal, or children who have been legally freed without an adoptive or permanency resource.
Criteria should be flexible enough to allow the professional team to decide whether a child would benefit from exhaustive case mining or a diligent search for kinship placement, even if he/she does not meet the established guidelines.
CChild-specific publicity contributes most to an agency's general recruitment campaign by building public awareness about the need for foster/adoptive families. Although this approach may also generate an individual parent's interest in a particular child, it has been shown to be most effective in creating interest in foster parenting. Examples of child-specific publicity:
Heart Gallery of America, Inc., a traveling photographic and audio exhibit created to find forever families for children in foster care. The Heart Gallery of America is a collaborative project of over 120 Heart Galleries across the United States designed to increase the number of adoptive families for children needing homes in our community (www.heartgalleryofamerica.org).
Heart Galleries are used in many areas in New York State as adoption recruitment tools. Professional photographers donate their time to take high-quality photographs of waiting children. These photos are displayed in high-traffic public locations to help put faces to the statistics about children in foster care without permanent families.
Wednesday's Child, is a weekly television news segment that features children who are waiting in foster care to be adopted, and shares success stories of families who have adopted from foster care. The segments are hosted by local news anchors and highlight each child's special personality and interests (http://wednesdayschild.com/our-children/).
A number of organizations offer photolistings and profiles of waiting children. Nationally, the most well-known is AdoptUSKids, which lists children's profiles provided by local and/or state agencies. In addition to photolisting on OCFS' Adoption Album, public and private agencies in New York can list their waiting children on the AdoptUSKids site at no cost, giving national exposure to waiting children.
(See Appendix 5-1: Encouraging Your Staff to Use Photolistings in New Ways.)