NASW Practice Snapshot:
Promising Practices in Foster Care for Recruiting and Retaining Resource Families

At this moment, there are more than 500,000 American children and youth in foster care (Casey Family Programs, 2005). Although most will be reunified with their families within a short time, many will spend months, or even years, in foster care. Whether their time in care is long or short, each of these vulnerable children needs a safe, caring foster family home to ensure their well-being and positive development while they are in foster care.  The number of children is disproportionaly high compared to the number of available resource families. Child welfare agencies across the country have identified a lack of available families or “resource” families as one of the primary challenges they are facing. Many are investing in media campaigns, employing marketing professionals, and changing how they staff their internal departments.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between what is known as "best practices" and what is actually practiced in the field to recruit and retain resource families, Casey Family Programs sponsored a pilot program in this area. The results are chronicled in a new report, Recruitment and Retention of Resource Families: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned. Over 14 months, 22 public child welfare agencies implemented and tested more than 400 small-scale changes to determine what worked in recruitment and retention of families. The changes and their outcomes were entered into a searchable database. A review of the changes resulted in 10 key practice themes for recruiting and retaining resource families for foster care and adoption.  Themes include:

  • culturally sensitive recruitment;
  • partnerships with faith-based organizations;
  • educating and engaging the community;
  • recruitment of homes for youth and siblings;
  • support and responsiveness of the child welfare agency;
  • role clarity for and inclusion of resource families;
  • relationships between resource families and birth families;
  • the voices of children and youth, resource families, and birth families.

NASW is keenly interested in their findings and recommendations about culturally sensitive recruitment. The report states that while child welfare agencies recognize the importance of placing children with families of like cultures and backgrounds, they often are not able to make such placements due to a lack of available resource families of color. In the study, child welfare agencies reviewed the materials they used to recruit resource families and discovered that very few of the materials were culturally or linguistically specific which could partly explain why families of various cultural backgrounds were not responding to their publicity messages. Similarly, when prospective families contacted the agency to express interest, their interest was often stymied by an inability to communicate with a staff person who understood their language or culture. Because a significant number of children in care are children of color, it is critical to have a pool of resource families and staff who reflect the child’s race, ethnicity, and culture.

For each of these themes, the report documents specific strategies, case studies, and outcomes. You can read the report in its entirety by going online to http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/articles.cfm?article_id=1057

Although this report offers useful practice advice, social workers in child welfare should be mindful that their recruitment and retention of potential foster care and adoptive parents should be consistent with the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-382), the Interethnic Adoption Provisions of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-188), and the Indian Child Welfare Act (P.L. 95-608). NASW recommends that social workers include tribes in decision-making and for assistance in locating appropriate placement resources when a Native American child requires out-of-home care. If children are placed with parents of a different race, ethnicity, or culture, such parents should receive diversity training, when appropriate (NASW, 2005).

Further, NASW suggests that child welfare agencies provide ongoing professional training in cultural competence, support changes in federal, state, and local laws and policies, and uphold best practices that are based in research (NASW, 2001). Foster care and adoption agencies must be administered and staffed by professionally educated social workers, licensed social workers, or both, and should provide competitive salary levels and professional opportunities to recruit and retain social workers (NASW, 2003). This approach will ultimately improve the services for prospective adoptive families, birth parents, foster parents, and children.

NASW Partners with Casey Family Programs to Promote Foster Care Month: How You Can Get Involved

NASW is committed to bringing awareness to the needs of the thousands of youth in the child welfare system through our partnership with Casey Family Programs and their “May is Foster Care Month” Initiative. This partnership is an opportunity to get more people involved in the lives of youth, either as foster parents, volunteers, mentors, employers, or in other ways. We hope you will join us in making National Foster Care Month a success this May.

As part of the month-long celebration, foster parent associations, child welfare advocates, private and public officials, and others are hosting special events and issuing proclamations highlighting foster care as an important issue requiring better resources and support.

If you would like to participate in this annual celebration, please visit www.fostercaremonth.org for more information. Read about the ways you can change the life of a young person in foster care by sharing your heart, opening your home, and giving hope by getting involved. Use the National Foster Care Month toolkit to learn how you can honor foster families, promote foster care in the media, and obtain proclamations of support from your government officials. Download sample letters, op-ed pieces, and other tools that can help you plan successful Foster Care Month activities.

References
 
Casey Family Programs. (2005). Summary of the recruitment and retention breakthrough series collaborative [Online]. Retrieved from http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/articles.cfm?article_id=1057 on November 18, 2005.
Casey Family Programs. (n.d.). Fact sheet on foster care [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.fostercaremonth.org/NR/rdonlyres/20811A92-3458-433C-83CD-1F288EEA6538/0/1f_Facts_fcm05.pdf on May 12, 2005.
National Association of Social Workers. (2001). Standards for cultural competence in social work practice.  Washington, DC: NASW Press.
National Association of Social Workers. (2003). Foster care and adoption. Social work speaks: National Association of Social Workers policy statements, 2003-2006 (6th ed., pp. 144-151). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
National Association of Social Workers. (2005). Standards for social work practice in child welfare (pp. 19-20). Washington, DC: NASW Press.

NASW, October 2005

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