Children’s Bureau Issues Information Memoranda on Data-Driven Foster Parent Recruitment and Family Time for Children in Foster Care

The federal Children’s Bureau has issued new Information Memoranda (IMs) that are relevant to two of the CHAMPS policy priorities, data-driven foster parent recruitment and strengthening foster-birth parent relationships.

Information Memorandum ACYF-CB-IM-20-03 (February 10, 2020), regarding Technology Support for Recruitment, Approval, and Retention of Foster Homes:

The purpose of this IM is to “inform title IV-E agencies on how to use CCWIS (Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System), non-CCWIS information systems, websites, and applications to support child welfare program activities related to the recruitment, approval, and retention of foster homes.” As background, the IM notes that less than one-third of states reviewed during round three of the Child and Family Service Reviews (CFSRs) had a strength rating for Item 35, the Diligent Recruitment of Foster and Adoptive Homes. Systemic issues noted in the reviews included the lack of a statewide recruitment plan, inability to determine whether background checks were completed, and challenges in administering the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

The first part of the IM briefly describes the types of information on foster families required to be maintained in CCWIS, which are primarily intended to support claims for title IV-E federal financial participation and include information on placement licensing/approval, background checks and foster parent training. The IM goes on to stress the importance of minimizing the potential for duplication and inconsistent use of data if states opt to use external and commercial-off-the-shelf information systems for recruitment and approval. The IM further notes that decentralization of recruitment through the use of “child welfare contributing agencies,” while permissible under federal rules, also poses risks of duplication and inconsistent use. State approaches to recruitment, approval and retention of foster homes often involve a blend of public, for-profit, tribal, non-profit and faith-based organizations, and these efforts are not always effectively integrated.

The second part of the IM addresses practice and information needs and includes a helpful list of questions to consider as states develop systems to collect information about foster families. These questions address such issues as placement of sibling groups, keeping children close to home, true bed capacity, number of current openings, characteristics of successful foster families, and tracking families during the recruitment process. (This list is similar to one in the CHAMPS brief “Data-Driven Foster Parent Recruitment and Retention: A CHAMPS Guide for State Legislators and Other Policymakers”). The IM then identifies potential users of child welfare information and examples of how such information might be used for purposes of foster parent recruitment, approval and support. This discussion is followed by a list of practice barriers in the areas of recruitment, approval and ongoing service and retention and possible technology solutions. These include, for example, the following:

  • Matching: use of business intelligence and/or artificial intelligence using child welfare data to conduct intelligent matching between a child and a family;
  • Improving efficiency and timeliness of recruitment and approval: tracking milestones such as key dates in the approval process and reasons families withdraw from consideration;
  • Tenure: use of data to determine average tenure of foster parents and exit reasons in order to analyze placement trends;
  • Quality: gather data from foster youth and caseworkers regarding placement safety and quality of foster parenting.

The final part of the IM consists of a list of recruitment resources developed by AdoptUSKids–including the Family Intake Tracking Tool (FITT) and related data elements, and the Diligent Recruitment Navigator–and some examples of best practices in foster parent recruitment, namely market segmentation, geo-mapping, intelligent matching and digital assistants or chatbots.

Information Memorandum ACYF-CB-IM-20-02 (February 5, 2020), regarding Family Time and visitation for children and youth in out-of-home care:

This IM provides information on research, best practices, policy examples and recommendations to promote safe and meaningful family time and visitation for birth parents and their children in foster care.

As background, the IM describes the harmful effects that can result from removing children from their homes and separating them from their parents in order to protect their safety. What follows is an extensive review of research and best practices on the positive outcomes associated with regular, meaningful family time, which include enhanced parent engagement, greater likelihood of reunification, expedited permanency, reduced likelihood of re-entry into foster care, and improved emotional well-being for parents and children. The IM stresses that family time should commence soon after removal, that supervision can often compromise the quality of parent-child interaction, and that a child welfare agency should not assume that family time should always be supervised. The IM provides examples of state laws and policies as well as best practices identified by national organizations that support quality family time.

After describing the positive effects of quality family time, the IM reviews the research on the negative effects of restricting or ending family time due to a parent’s non-compliance with case plan requirements or perceived negative emotional responses of the child associated with family time. Child welfare agencies should explore alternatives to restricting family time when children exhibit concerning behavior, safety risks emerge or parents fail to achieve case plan objectives. The IM provides best practice examples for dealing with these types of situations.

In the next section on resources and innovation, the IM describes how funding under titles IV-B and IV-E can be used to support family time activities. It then provides examples of innovative programs in several jurisdictions, including a foster care program operated by the Center for Family Life in Brooklyn, NY that focuses on building positive relationships between birth parents and foster parents and to seamlessly blend foster care and family time. Similarly, a program in San Diego uses Visit Coaches to enhance parenting skills and promote relationships between birth and foster families. More examples of shared parenting policies can be found in the CHAMPS Policy Playbook.

The IM closes with a set of recommendations for court improvement programs, judges, attorneys, child welfare agency leaders, and agency caseworkers. From CHAMPS’ perspective, what is missing from these recommendations is to recruit, train and support foster parents who are interested in developing supportive, child-centered relationships with birth parents.


Blog authored by Steve Christian, policy consultant to CHAMPS

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