Targeted v. General Recruitment

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When people think about "foster/adoptive family recruitment," general recruitment is often what first comes to mind. Agencies may be most familiar with general recruitment strategies, such as broadcasting public service announcements, buying advertising space on billboards, or staffing a table at the county fair. However, targeted and child-focused recruitment strategies have been demonstrated to be more effective in attracting foster/adoptive families that are qualified and committed to their roles and are better matched with children in need of care.

With targeted recruitment, efforts are concentrated on narrowly defined, smaller groups of people in order to achieve a clearly defined objective. Targeted recruitment "routes the recruitment message directly to the people who are most likely to follow through to become foster or adoptive parents. It focuses on families in targeted communities where homes are needed, as well as on families with specific backgrounds that match the backgrounds and needs of children awaiting homes" (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012).

Another approach, child-focused recruitment, focuses on finding a foster or adoptive home for a particular child. The Child-Focused Recruitment page describes the different types of child-focused recruitment in detail.

General recruitment

General recruitment uses methods that are designed to reach as many people as possible with a one-size-fits-all message. Volume is the key factor in this approach. While this approach can be helpful in reaching a wide variety of families, it is most helpful in setting the stage for more targeted recruitment.

Agencies have learned that general recruitment efforts, such as mass marketing campaigns, may draw a large response from the community, but do not yield families likely to complete certification or meet the needs of children in care. Although general recruitment continues to play a role, agencies are encouraged to direct the majority of their available resources toward targeted and child-focused recruitment. In a recent best practices guide, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends agencies spend 60% of their efforts on targeted recruitment and 25% on child-focused recruitment (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). General recruitment efforts would involve only about 15% of an agency's recruitment strategies, which would represent a significant practice shift for most agencies.

General recruitment casts a wide net in the community, and builds awareness of the ongoing need for foster/adoptive families. General recruitment can also promote positive images of the foster care and adoption systems. Its value lies in helping create a local environment that is receptive to targeted and child-focused recruitment, rather than resulting in new foster/adoptive homes.

Develop low-cost, effective strategies

There are new ways to communicate that can make a small general recruitment budget go farther. For example, rather than using paid advertising, contact the local newspaper about doing a feature story on the need for foster families in your area. The article will usually appear in both the printed newspaper and the publication's website.

Other strategies include:

(See Appendix 4-1: General Recruitment.)

Targeted recruitment: Filling the gaps

Targeted recruitment directs an agency's resources and efforts where they are mostly likely to yield results. As a data-driven technique, it requires agencies to collect data about their communities and current foster/adoptive homes and to have the tools to effectively analyze and interpret that information.

To develop a targeted recruitment strategy, start by analyzing local data to understand current recruitment strengths and gaps (see Chapter 2). Assessing the data identifies the problem that needs attention before pre-determining a solution. Data also help to define the work that has been accomplished, identify areas that need more attention, and provide a launch pad for innovative solutions.

The general sequence of steps in analyzing and using local data include:

  1. Describe the children in foster care.
    Develop a profile of the children in care with the agency. How many are there in total? How many are in each category when broken down by age group, ethnicity, and special needs (sibling groups, healthcare needs, etc.)?
  2. Describe the homes currently available to them.
    Develop a profile of the foster homes and beds currently available to the agency. What is the total number? How many are in each category when broken down by ages of children accepted in the home, ethnicity, and willingness to care for special needs?
  3. Make a plan to fill the gaps.
    Identify and reach out to families who can care for the children who are most in need of homes (North Carolina Division of Social Services, 2009).

Promoting the best interests of the child, and finding a family that can best meet his or her distinctive needs, is at the heart of any recruitment effort. For example, based on their local trends of children coming into care, a community may need 30 African-American homes, but only have 10 available. Bridging the gap between needed and available homes is critical to all diligent recruitment efforts.

Targeted recruitment

If needed, take steps to build credibility and trust between child welfare agencies and the communities in which foster/adoptive families are sought.

Continue the ongoing journey of cultural competence, both within agencies and individuals.

Focus on communities that are known to respond well to the need for foster/adoptive homes.

Develop partnerships with diverse communities

Targeted recruitment relies on engagement with diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities. In some cases, previous interactions with child welfare or other government agencies have engendered a climate of mistrust in communities where agencies are seeking to recruit foster/adoptive families. If this is the case, the first step in the recruitment process is to build trust. Establishing trust involves building relationships, often one at a time. Getting out of one's comfort zone is a natural part of the process. When needed, efforts to re-establish credibility in the community can set the stage for agencies to work effectively with diverse families and meet the needs of children in care.

(See Appendix 4-2: Working with African American Adoptive, Foster and Kinship Families and Appendix 4-3: Benefits for Children of Recruiting Latino Foster and Adoptive Families.)

Analyzing characteristics of foster homes

The leadership at The Children's Home of Wyoming Conference (CHOWC) sought to fill gaps between available and needed homes in the Binghamton, NY area. They decided to review their existing data to determine if they were using their pool of homes in the best possible way to meet the needs of the children coming into care.

The CHOWC team, which included a supervisor and three homefinders, first reviewed the pool of foster homes to identify any unused or underutilized homes (those which had not had a placement in the last six months). The team reviewed each home one by one to identify which homes were being used, which were underutilized, and which were completely unused and why.

The analysis resulted in four categories. The first two categories included homes with a placement and those without a placement. Homes without a placement were further divided into two subcategories: those without a placement in the previous three months, and those without a placement in the previous six months. The team then engaged in a thorough discussion of each home, with the homefinders contributing relevant knowledge about the home, such as their understanding of why the home was not accepting or being offered placements. Out of approximately 120 certified homes, 17 homes were identified as underutilized (could have accepted more placements) or unused (had no placements)—almost 15 percent.

The team thought that some of these homes might be ready to close. Team members contacted each family for an update, and confirmed or changed the home's status. There were various reasons why the homes were unused or underutilized. Some families said they only wanted to adopt, others were caring for other relatives, and others no longer had time to foster for other reasons. Following the conversations, eight foster families decided to discontinue fostering. The nine families that continued were "creatively redefined" by CHOWC. Some, for example, were certified to provide respite care during gaps in placements.

Aliscia Gaucher, CHOWC supervisor, stated that, "The amount of time that we spent was negligible compared to the value that we gained from knowing how and why we are using our homes in certain ways. This data impacts our needs assessment, our ability to provide supportive respite services, and our ongoing efforts to meet the needs of children in care. We plan to do this analysis annually!"

Build cultural competence

To build cultural awareness and competence, organizations and individuals must assess their attitudes, practices, and policies in relation to the needs and preferences of the targeted community. The National Center for Cultural Competence has developed a guide for conducting an organizational self-assessment (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004). It includes key principles, such as:

(See Appendix 4-4: Moving Toward Cultural Competence: Key Considerations to Explore.)

As agencies develop relationships in target communities, they can work with these contacts to develop a plain-language message that explains the impact of Disproportionate Minority Representation (DMR) on children and youth and describes the need for more foster/adoptive families in affected communities. Trust-building is also encouraged by taking advantage of opportunities to work alongside faith, ethnic and civic organizations. Other measures to try:

(North Carolina Family Support & Child Welfare Services Statewide Training Partnership, 2008)

Recruitment of Native American foster homes

The recruitment of foster/adoptive families for Native American children must conform to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Since the passage of ICWA in 1978, many tribes have progressively built their own child welfare systems to handle child abuse and neglect concerns. The ICWA outlines foster/adoptive placement preferences. Specifically, agencies must seek placement with the extended family first and, only if unsuccessful, then with a tribal-certified foster home. Partnerships between non-tribal and tribal child welfare systems can be an important support for tribes in developing their capacity to certify foster homes (National Indian Child Welfare Association, 2015).

(See Appendix 4-5: Strategies for Successfully Recruiting and Retaining Preferred-Placement Foster Homes for American Indian Children.)

In response to changes in state and federal regulations pertaining to ICWA, OCFS released a policy directive on "Implementing Federal and Corresponding State Indian Child Welfare Act Regulations" (17-OCFS-ADM-08). It includes three attachments: "Notice of Child Custody Proceeding for Indian Child," "Mailing Addresses for New York State Indian Tribes and Nations," and "Indian Child Welfare Act FAQ's."

Engage current foster/adoptive parents in recruitment

According to the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), states are "underutilizing their most effective recruitment tool − foster parents" (Office of Inspector General, May 2002). In a nationwide survey, child welfare program managers in 20 states said that engaging foster parents in recruitment was one of the most successful methods of recruiting new foster families. This survey found that foster parents recruited by other foster parents are more likely to complete training and become licensed. Despite these findings, only seven states were using foster parents in their recruitment efforts.

Some states pay foster parents a stipend for participating in recruitment activities, such as staffing tables at community events. Others provide a financial reward to foster parents who recruit families that eventually become licensed. New York State does both (see Spotlights on New York: Finder's Fee and Foster Parents as Recruiters program).

Finder's fees

In New York State, policy allows local districts and agencies to offer experienced foster parents a "finder's fee" of $200 for recruiting new foster families. The payment is made to foster parents and local districts are reimbursed by the state after the new foster home is certified and receives the first child. For more information, see the NYS OCFS Standards of Payment for Foster Care Program Manual, Section G-1.

Foster Parents as Recruiters program

In New York State, the Foster Parents as Recruiters program incorporates the idea that foster parents are the best recruiters and are valuable partners with local districts and voluntary agencies in planning and implementing recruitment and retention activities. Foster parents are hired as consultants to conduct recruitment and retention tasks as defined in partnership with their certifying county or agency. Requests to utilize the program are submitted by a local district or voluntary agency to the OCFS Regional Office. Contracts typically pay the foster parent $15/hour for about 30 hours during a defined timeframe. More information about the process counties and agencies can follow to utilize this funding stream can be found here: Foster Parents as Recruiters - Step-by-Step Guide.

Targeted recruitment: Engage high-response communities

As part of the effort to develop a pool of diverse, committed foster families, certain communities and subgroups have been found to be highly responsive to recruitment efforts. Two of these are faith-based organizations and the LGBTQ community.

Connect with communities of faith

It is widely recognized that faith communities are valuable partners with child welfare agencies. They often have a mission that is aligned with caring for vulnerable children and families, and are able to contribute essential local knowledge and access to important community leaders and community members. For example, one community organization in Oklahoma found that 60% of inquiries from people who were part of a faith-based community completed the approval process in comparison to the agency's typical 30% completion rate of traditional inquiries (Oklahoma Department of Human Services, 2011).

The One Church One Child (OCOC) program is designed to address the challenge of recruiting adoptive and foster families in African American communities. The program strives to find one family in every participating African American church to adopt one child. OCOC program activities include: familiarizing church members with the children waiting to be adopted, identifying families that are willing to adopt, and providing support services for adoptive families and children. See a detailed description of the One Church One Child model here.

When first contacting faith-based organizations, agencies should establish what they are hoping communities of faith will help them accomplish. What is the "ask"? You might ask a faith community to:

(National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment, 2008)

Orange County faith-based partnership

In Orange County, New York, the Department of Social Services developed a close partnership with a local church to cultivate foster/adoptive parents. The church asks members of the congregation who are foster/adoptive parents to recruit others to become foster/adoptive parents. Orientations and MAPP trainings are held on-site at the church by department staff, with church members’ support, to make the process more comfortable and ease the way for members to participate.

Ongoing work with faith communities may result in successful outcomes, such as families being recruited, trained and certified, and foster and adoptive placements (Cipriani, n.d.). In addition, families from the faith community may report a high level of satisfaction with how they are being treated by the partnering agency, which builds the agency’s reputation in the community. Personal connections are essential in developing relationships with faith-based communities. To begin this process:

Articulate intention: Begin with the belief that the involvement of this sector of the community is essential to your effort. Clearly articulate how a partnership with this sector would work, including specific possibilities for faith-based participation.

Gather information: Identify faith-based organizations in your community by making personal connections and establishing relationships. Conduct a search: Begin your search with people you know; ask them whether they know of faith-based communities or leaders who might be interested in forming a partnership addressing the issues you want help with.

Initiate contact: Personal outreach is vital in initiating and maintaining relationships with faith-based organizations. When possible, begin with already-established relationships and contacts within the target community; relying on mutual acquaintances can make establishing new relationships easier. Consider asking a leader within the targeted faith-based community to sponsor a special gathering of his or her peers for you (Burke, 2011).

Faith-based communities

Build relationships with faith communities through personal connections.

Establish the connection between the agency’s work and the mission of the faith community.

Clearly articulate the agency’s “ask” of the faith community.

Welcome and engage the LGBTQ community

Reaching out to the LGBTQ community may be beneficial to ongoing recruitment efforts.


is an abbreviation commonly used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.
Sexual orientation
refers to a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to persons of the same or different gender.
Gender identity
refers to a person’s internal sense of self as male, female, no gender, or another gender.
Gender expression
refers to the manner in which a person expresses his or her gender through clothing, appearance, behavior, speech, etc. A person’s gender expression may vary from the norms traditionally associated with his or her assigned sex at birth. Gender expression is a separate concept from sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, a male may exhibit feminine qualities, but identify as a heterosexual male.
refers to a female who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to other females.
refers to a person who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to people of the same gender identity. Sometimes, it may be used to refer to gay men and boys only.
refers to a person who is attracted to, and may form sexual and romantic relationships with, males and females.
may be used as an umbrella term to include all persons whose gender identity or gender expression does not match society’s expectations of how an individual of that gender should behave in relation to his or her gender. For purposes of protection from discrimination and harassment, transgender refers to both self-identified transgender individuals and individuals perceived as transgender. Transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning.
refers to a person, often an adolescent, who is exploring or questioning issues of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in his or her life. Some questioning people will ultimately identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual.

Source: OCFS Informational Letter 09-OCFS-INF-06: “Promoting a safe and respectful environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children and youth in out-of-home placement.”

Many LGBTQ individuals express interest in adopting and/or fostering as a way to build their families. They often bring a set of strengths to foster care and adoption due to their own experiences (including an understanding of how it feels to be “different”) and an ability to empathize with children struggling with peer relationships and identity issues.

Over 25 years of research on measures of self-esteem, adjustment, and qualities of social relationships shows that the children of LGBTQ parents have been found to grow up as successfully as children of heterosexual parents (Patterson, 2009). It has been noted that “without preconceived notions of what constitutes family, many LGBTQ adults are receptive to fostering or adopting older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs” (National Resource Center for Adoption, n.d.).

A recent study found that same-sex couples are three times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be raising an adopted or foster child. Married same-sex couples are five times more likely to be raising these children when compared to married different-sex couples (Gates, 2015).

In addition, the LGBTQ community offers a diversity of homes in terms of socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and racial groups. This supports agencies’ efforts to have a pool of foster/adoptive homes that are of the same race and/or ethnicity and are located in the same geographic area as children being placed.

By reaching out to prospective parents who are LGBTQ, agencies can expand their pool of foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Although an agency may already be working with many LGBTQ parents, an ongoing assessment of the agency’s capacity and readiness to recruit LGBTQ parents is helpful. Building agency capacity to send welcoming messages to LGBTQ individuals may be the first step in tapping into this community. Building community connections and relationships with LGBTQ ally organizations also supports the recruitment process and shows that efforts are being made to make inroads in the community of interest.

(See Appendix 4-6: Frequently Asked Questions from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Prospective Foster and Adoptive Parents and Appendix 4-7: Permanency Planning Today.)

Engaging the LGBTQ community

LGBTQ individuals may be a resource for child welfare agencies seeking to expand their pool of foster/adoptive parents.

Sending welcoming messages to LGBTQ individuals is an important first step.

Put It Into Practice

Make your message LGBTQ friendly

LGBTQ individuals may be a resource for child welfare agencies seeking to expand their pool of foster/adoptive parents. Sending welcoming messages to LGBTQ individuals is an important first step.

Review agency forms, interview protocols, and publications to make sure they are inclusive and affirming for LGBTQ parents. In New York State, OCFS has made a great effort to change the application experience for all people, but in particular for those who may identify in different ways. The new universal application is all things neutral: gender neutral, marital status neutral and family neutral (NYS Foster-Adoptive Parent Application).

In conversations with applicants about their relationships and/or marital status, avoid using gender-specific terms such as "husband" and "wife" and instead use terms such as "spouse" or "partner."

Make sure that the photos and images used in recruitment materials and publications reflect the diversity of prospective families. Include same-sex couples and single parents in photography and graphic art. If prospective LGBTQ families don't see families like themselves in any of the agency's images, they may find it more difficult to trust the agency to consider their applications fairly.

(See Appendix 4-8: Recruiting and Retaining LBGT Foster, Adoptive,and Kinship Families: Sending a Welcoming Message.)

Additional Resources

Practice Models



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.