Foster family recruitment, development and support: During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
A Three-Part Conversation with Denise Goodman, PhD
In this three-part series, Denise Goodman, a national expert in foster family recruitment, development and support, shared with CHAMPS her perspective on how child welfare agencies can ensure children and youth in foster care continue to have stable, quality foster homes during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part 1: Foster Family Recruitment (see below for links to Parts 2 & 3).
Denise, overall, what are you seeing in the child welfare field right now, as agencies continue their work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Child welfare agencies are strained on many levels. There is very little PPE to go around. They are dealing with workforce shortages due to workers being ill, health concerns, caring for sick relatives, or lack of childcare. There are also technology challenges. Agencies are trying to ramp up capacity to work virtually. I’ve noticed that agency leaders have initially been focused on workforce issues, visitation, court proceedings, and caseworker visits. But agencies are now turning to the recruitment, development and support of caregivers. There’s an understanding that we need to keep our current foster families and continue to recruit new families.
This work is tough, for sure, but what I’m also seeing is that the flexibility and innovation of the jurisdiction can make all the difference. We need to keep in mind that sometimes crisis can be the birthplace of creativity. Barriers that used to be there have somehow gone away. If we can do it now, we can do it after. We don’t want to put foster care back where it was, we want it to be better. That was the commitment in Louisiana after Katrina. We need to have similar focus across the country.
What has changed, or should change, related to how agencies recruit foster families?
The pandemic has created the necessity of using social media. If you weren’t doing it before, you should now. If you were doing it before, you should increase your visibility even more. Everyone is at home and online these days! Some ideas include:
• Send out a recruitment message to existing foster parents to post on their social media and have people like it. Do the same for your staff.
• Ask churches and schools to put recruitment messages in their newsletter and on websites. People are on those websites now more than ever.
• Get on local news media. Here in Columbus, Rita Soronen, CEO from Dave Thomas Foundation was on local news reminding us that we still need foster and adoptive families. [Story here] Every community has someone who can speak to this issue.
How should agencies think about changing their foster family recruitment messaging during this time?
I’m starting to see some good recruitment messaging on social media platforms. You definitely want to address the current crisis. Keep in mind that news coverage has been highlighting that child abuse reports are going down. Agencies need to get the word out that foster parents are still needed. Some ideas for recruitment messaging are:
• Share that becoming a foster parent can be done from the comfort of their home. Training, orientation and some of the home study can all be done virtually.
• Stress that if they have been thinking about being a foster parent, now is a good time to start the process.
• Highlight that this is a good thing to do for kids and teens right now. We need homes every day, and we’re going to need more down the road!
• Reinforce that families can go at different speeds. They can take a fast track or take their time.
• Consider sharing that we need to get kids out of group homes right now. We’re all isolating, but we don’t want kids further isolated in those settings.
• Tell prospective foster parents that they can commit to the next year to help some children and your community through this tough time.
• Stay in contact with families and continue to encourage them. Shepherd them through each step of the licensing process.
• Lastly, times are tough for folks who have lost jobs. Be sure to emphasize that this will not supplant family income
Are there any best practices that agencies should consider implementing now?
Nationally, very few agencies have dedicated staff for recruitment. Often, recruitment staff are also doing licensing or other functions. There are big advantages to dedicating staff to recruitment. And even bigger gains when agencies engage foster parents as recruiters and pay them. Some agencies pay a “finder’s fee” to foster families who help recruit. Foster families are often helping recruit others, but it’s not recorded or incentivized. Agencies need to find ways to formally partner with their existing families in order to institutionalize and maximize the benefits of family-to-family recruitment.
See here for Part 2
See here for Part 3