Local districts and voluntary agencies invest significant resources in recruiting, supporting, and retaining foster, adoptive, and kinship parents. These families are critical in maintaining the safety, permanency, and well-being of children in foster care.
But how do agencies know what works and what is being achieved from this investment of resources? What is the "return on investment" for specific recruitment strategies? Did the public service announcement or website announcing the need for foster/adoptive parents result in more certified parents? How long do foster parents remain active? If they stopped fostering, what was the reason? How are efforts to identify and engage kinship foster homes lessening the need to recruit non-relative homes? Would better outcomes be achieved if staff time and resources were redirected toward different recruitment activities?
It is critical that agencies also ask, how well are kinship foster homes being recruited and certified? National best practice shows that states should be placing from 30 to 50 percent of children in care in kinship foster homes. Placement with kin can reduce children's trauma, increase stability, and support ongoing connections to family and culture. Recruiting kinship foster homes also maximizes an agency's recruitment resources: the more relative foster homes an agency certifies, the fewer resources are required to find non-relative foster homes.
Until recently, much of the "knowledge" about effective recruitment and retention strategies was anecdotal and collected on a case-by-case basis, with little systematic data collection and analysis. For example, information may be collected in the form of sign-in sheets at foster/adoptive parent orientations and trainings, but is not entered into a database and analyzed. Even basic information, such as the number of inquiries received during the year and the way such callers learned about the need for foster/adoptive homes, is not often documented in a way that could be used to quantify and measure current performance or trends.
Systematic data collection and analysis provide baseline measures of performance that allow agencies to assess changes in performance and the effectiveness of specific strategies over time. This type of data analysis also supports the agency's assessment of gaps in performance and influences the planning of steps to close those gaps.
These steps are part of a continuous quality improvement approach to recruitment and retention that involves setting a baseline to assess performance; developing a theory of change and setting goals; monitoring feedback and performance to see whether the changes are working; adjusting the strategy; and reassessing performance (Wulczyn, 2007). This process helps the agency evaluate data, assess and identify needs, develop a plan to address the needs, and then reassess again.
Recruitment of high-quality, committed foster/adoptive parents is fraught with challenges, but also presents many opportunities for new strategies and techniques. The term "diligent recruitment" has been applied to these efforts as "a more systematic approach to recruiting, retaining, developing, and supporting a pool of families that can meet the needs of children and youth in foster care (National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment, 2015a)."
Evaluating key data points helps agencies make informed decisions and drives their recruitment efforts to meet specific needs. Involvement of key stakeholders in the conversation is recommended to further evaluate the data, review recommendations, and facilitate cross-collaboration.
During this process, agencies may discover that they are not collecting all the data they need, or may be collecting it in a way that is not easy to analyze, such as the paper sign-in sheets at information sessions and trainings. Agencies may want to modify some practices to capture such data in the future. Training, supervision, and staff meetings are opportunities to help staff understand the importance of accurate, consistent, and timely data collection and entry.
Diligent recruitment requires an agency to collect and critically analyze data on at least three tracks:
When collecting and analyzing data about the strengths and weaknesses of the recruitment process, the goals are to identify the effectiveness of the current process and determine what changes can be made to increase effectiveness, including timeliness. Agencies should make sure that they are capturing the data needed to fully evaluate the process and look at each point in the process as an opportunity to enhance or modify that point. Over time, trends can be identified and performance changes measured.
When collecting and analyzing data about key steps in the process, and the time it takes for the agency and applicants to complete each milestone, agencies should consider the following:
OCFS policy emphasizes that LDSSs and VAs must maintain information regarding foster and adoptive homes in the Foster and Adoptive Home Development (FAD) stage in CONNECTIONS. All of the information on prospective foster parent applicants acquired during the inquiry and orientation processes must be recorded in the FAD as early as possible, regardless of whether or not the home becomes fully certified or approved. This tracking helps agencies determine the proportion of inquiries that resulted in certified homes (OCFS, 2017).
When collecting and analyzing data about the characteristics of current foster homes, the goals are to identify whether there is a gap between available homes and children needing placement, and the types and numbers of homes that are needed to fill that gap. To accomplish this, agencies should have at least the following data:
Agencies can use data about retention successes and challenges to develop and implement innovative approaches to improve stability and permanency for children. It is recommended that agencies collect data in at least the following areas:
(See Appendix 2-1: Data-Driven Recruitment – Key Data Elements on Foster and Adoptive Families.)
Market segmentation is a term used in the marketing field. It involves dividing a broad group of consumers into subsets that have common needs and priorities, and then designing and implementing strategies to reach them. Markets can be divided into segments according to factors such as age, geographic location, and buying history. For example, if a retailer knows that more than half of its customers are between the ages of 16 and 21, it will use marketing strategies that are most likely to reach that age group.
Some child welfare agencies have begun using market segmentation to better understand the characteristics and interests of successful foster/adoptive parents in their area and target recruitment efforts accordingly. Based on precise data collection and analysis, market segmentation divides the entire pool of potential foster parents into segments that are most likely to respond to recruitment efforts.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) used market segmentation to improve its recruitment process. After identifying current, successful foster families through focused data collection, DCF hired the Nielson-Claritas market research firm to analyze the families' lifestyle characteristics and consumer behaviors. The results allowed DCF to answer key questions:
The information was used to determine how to focus recruitment efforts with the best chance of high yield. Data was also entered into a Geographic Information System (GIS) program to generate maps that revealed the geographic areas for concentrated recruitment efforts.
The National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment reports that jurisdictions have used Nielsen's PRIZM market segmentation software to do market analysis. The basic package is available for about $10,000. GIS software also is available from companies such as ESRI, Inc. One such program, ArcGIS Community Analyst, has been used to direct recruitment efforts for foster/adoptive families (esri industries, n.d.).
(See Appendix 2-2: Tips, Tools, and Trends: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) & Market Segmentation.)