Using data to build an effective retention plan

You have collected data about the number and characteristics of active, inactive, and closed foster homes. When paired with a survey tool that asks the "why?" question, you're in a good position to develop a plan to both recruit and retain foster homes.

For example, your utilization study has identified homes that have not received placements for six months or more. While these homes are technically open, they are inactive. Perhaps some of these homes need to be closed, if they are unsuitable for placements.

On the other hand, you may want to re-recruit from this inactive pool, based on your newly acquired data that describes the current needs of children coming into care. Steps could be taken to reactivate inactive homes so they will take placements again. For example, a foster family that had expressed a preference for young children might be given information about the needs of teens. With additional support, that family might agree to take a 14-year-old into their care.

In the previous example, an agency calculated a 63 percent retention rate for the current year. To establish the meaning of that number, the team calculated the rate for two previous years and compared the results:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
72% 70% 63%

The agency's retention rate decreased steadily over the past three years. What does this mean? What additional information do you need to understand this trend? Bring this information to your team and discuss this question. A review of "closed home reasons" in CONNECTIONS or case files may show that most of the homes closed for non-preventable reasons, such as an increase in adoptions or the agency's effort to close long-inactive homes. It is also possible that the declining retention of foster homes is due to a preventable reason, such as inadequate support for foster parents. Case file reviews or the results of "exit interviews" would help to support or remove this possibility.

Analyzing survey results

During the survey design process, your team should discuss how the responses will be analyzed and interpreted. Survey data will only be useful if it is tabulated and analyzed. Read more . . .

One agency noted that a survey of foster parents had been done several years before. When asked about the results of the survey, however, staff explained that the data had never been tabulated or analyzed for trends. This can be discouraging both to staff and the foster parents that completed the survey.

If you have partnered with a university or third party, or if you have conducted the survey with an online application such as Survey Monkey, data tabulation will be part of the package. Websites such as these offer a wealth of tools that can help you understand the data, as well as to share the data in useful terms.

If you have created an interview form or simple questionnaire, these analysis tips might be helpful:

  1. Tabulate the results. For instance, if foster parents checked boxes or circled numbers to indicate their level of satisfaction, you just need to count the answers. In this example, foster parents were asked their agreement or disagreement with a statement. Count the number of responses for each category and enter them in a table, and the results are clear.

  2.   Strongly Agree Somewhat Agree Somewhat Disagree Strongly Disagree Total
    I receive adequate information about children at placement 8
  1. Review written answers. It can be more complicated to analyze responses to open-ended questions that require individual, written answers. Look for patterns in the responses: are there some topics that appear more often than others? If so, how many participants mentioned this topic?
  2. Identify trends. If surveys are done on a regular basis (each year, for example), be sure to compare the results to previous surveys to see if there has been significant change. This is especially important in areas where the agency has made an effort to improve practices.

Write up a brief report — one page is sufficient — summarizing the results of the survey. Distribute the report to all foster parents. Share the findings with the Recruitment & Retention Team and brainstorm the results. Are there opportunities for greater transparency? What are you doing well that can be replicated or built upon? Are there recommendations for short- and long-term improvements?


An agency is concerned that many newly certified foster homes are closing within one year. An exit surveys show that a large percentage of parents are quitting due to a perceived lack of agency support or services, especially during crises. After researching various evidence-based approaches, the agency decides to implement a mentoring program based on the Foster Parents as Champions model. Under this new program, experienced foster parents contact recently certified foster parents at the start of every new placement to see if they have all the resources they need. They also provide ongoing support when caregivers have a question or need information.

Open But Inactive = Opportunity

Can some of your dormant foster homes be reactivated? It's worth the time and effort to contact qualified foster parents about emerging needs that they could fill.