Parents Play a Vital Role in Recruitment & Retention
from Winter 2005 Adoptalk
by Diane Riggs
Comedian Martin Mull once said, "Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain." Picture that for a moment, and consider how much more daunting it can be to build one's family through foster care or adoption. On the other hand, we know that resource parents who embrace their children's challenges grow uniquely strong and wise through times of trial and joy. This wisdom and strength also means resource parents can play a valuable role in recruiting and retaining new parents.
How Parents Support Recruitment
Child welfare workers, in addition to other tasks, have long been responsible for finding resources for waiting children. Fortunately, dedicated resource parents can offer useful assistance and, as evident in the examples below, greatly enhance recruitment and retention efforts.
Minnesota Recruitment Project. Since July 2001, with support from a Minnesota Department of Human Services grant, NACAC has been running a statewide, community-based program to find and support persons who can be foster, concurrent planning, or adoptive parents. Eleven parent resource developers lead community action teams that help guide community-based recruitment activities.
"My role," notes one developer (a parent of five children, three of whom were adopted), "is to get out there and talk!
People want to know how you've survived difficult times, so they know it can be done." As other developers confirm, talking about the experience of being an adoptive parent and the children who are waiting is an important way to raise awareness about the need for new families.
Another developer (a foster and adoptive mom) suggests that her job is about breaking down adoption barriers and myths, and "seeing parents through the process." She stresses that prospective parents should not be left to fend for themselves. Even after parents have a completed home study, they still need help to follow through with adoption.
Developers also provide personal support during the waiting process. A developer in northern Minnesota (who has four sons through adoption) explains that waiting parents who don't want to keep bugging their social worker "can talk to me about how hard it is to wait." To help them build a network of future support, she also encourages waiting parents to connect with a local parent support group. At placement, developers refer new adoptive parents to ongoing services and assistance.
Adopt Cuyahoga's Kids. A little more than a year ago, Adopt Cuyahoga's Kids (a program of Adoption Network Cleveland) began hiring adoption navigators to promote adoption and enable prospective adoptive parents to better manage the adoption process. Of the six navigators, three are adoptive parents.
Like Minnesota's resource developers, adoption navigators engage in various recruitment and retention activities. Navigators have created and distributed adoption-related flyers, given adoption-related talks in the community, and helped with matching parties. This year, they are also leading teams of volunteers who refill flyer displays, put up posters, promote informational open houses, etc.
To retain potential parents, navigators are available to answer questions and concerns from the initial inquiry through finalization. They hold a monthly support group for waiting families, offer individual encouragement, and sometimeswhen families have been waiting too longserve as a go-between with the would-be parents' private agency and the public agency who has custody of a waiting child.
Resource developers, adoption navigators, and other parents who live and work foster care and adoption conduct both general and personal recruitment activities. As a starting point, they raise public awareness about the need for foster or adoptive families and widely share information about foster care and adoption as well as the children who need families.
- Last November, Iowa's Black Hawk Foster and Adoptive Parents Association held a foster and adoption fair at an ice skating arena. While children enjoyed free ice skating and face painting, prospective parents talked with resource parents stationed at booths.
- The Johnson County Foster Adoptive Care Association in Mountain City, Tennessee conducted many general recruitment activities in 2004. The association's president recorded radio commercials about the need for foster and adoptive parents and served on the public agency's community awareness committee. In addition, the association sponsored a float featuring workers, foster/adoptive parents, children, and a recruitment message in two community parades; held a recruitment rally at the annual trout rodeo; and, with the public agency, helped plan a televised foster/adoption ceremony at Bristol Motor Speedway.
- Tennessee's Carroll County Foster Care Association centered a recruitment rally around a gospel music concert. Everyone who attended could pick up flyers, talk to agency workers, or even fill out applications to foster or adopt.
Personal recruitment effortsgeared at appealing to and sharing information with people one-on-oneare also important.
- Experienced parents who work at fairs, rallies, or other events can directly engage would-be parents who approach their booth. As is true for most recruitment efforts, individual connections (versus general information) tend to promote a greater return of interest and follow-through.
- Members of the Black Hawk Foster and Adoptive Parents' Association wear buttons that say, "Ask me about foster care and adoption." According to one group member, the button has led to many direct conversations about foster and adoptive parenting.
- One Minnesota resource developer hosts meetings for anyone interested in adoption. The idea is to personally help would-be adopters pursue adoption.
- To encourage individual recruitment, the Minnesota Recruitment Project also offers resource parents a fiscal incentive for finding adoptive, foster, concurrent planning, or kinship families. Volunteers who recruit new resource parents receive a $50 stipend when the person completes orientation, and another $50 when the prospective parent is licensed or home studied.
- Vermont runs a statewide recruitment contest. The resource parent who recruits the most new resource parents wins an all-expense-paid trip to the National Foster Parent Association conference.
Recruitment, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding families. Recruited individuals must brave an often arduous succession of forms, orientations, trainings, and personal interviews, intermingled with trying periods of waiting. Without sustained and supportive retention practices, many will drop out. Below are ways resource parents help potential parents to stay the course.
- At Barre Social and Rehabilitation Services in Vermont, an experienced foster/adoptive parent calls prospective parents within two days of their inquiry. She offers insight about foster and adoptive parenting, answers questions about the process, collects information, and helps would-be parents to take the next step. Calls are followed by packets and, when parents want to move forward, visits, and the option of ongoing contact with one of two resource parents.
- The premise for the Collaboration to AdoptUSKids' Recruitment Response Teams is similar. In concert with its national media campaign, AdoptUSKids has enlisted help from 54 Response Teams that offer timely assistance to those who inquire about adoption. Nine teams are parent support groups.
- One of the nine is the Heritage Family Preservation Center in Orlando, Florida. In addition to its Response Team work, the Center runs a buddy program that pairs experienced resource families with families in the process of adopting or being licensed as foster parents.
The Center also sponsors a pre-adoption group that offers emotional and practical support. Participants learn about the adoption process, ask questions, and compare stories. If participants need to fill out forms, prepare for a home study, or address other concerns, the group leader can help.
The Value of Resource Parents
Whether talking to or working with prospective parents, experienced adoptive and foster parents have many advantages. For example, veteran resource parents:
- may be less intimidating to prospects. Families are "on their best behavior" around social workers, notes Tami Lorkovich, program director of Adopt Cuyahoga's Kids. They don't want to ask too many questions, or create a bad impression for fear of rejection. With resource parents, who have no power to reject them, prospective parents can freely discuss their real wants and needs.
- have instant credibility. Trudie Poole, director of the Heritage Family Preservation Center, observes, "There's nothing like having someone who absolutely knows what you're talking about." Experienced foster and adoptive parents have successfully been through the process others are just embarking upon.
- possess firsthand knowledge. Because they have been through the process, resource parents know how novices feel when they first look into adoption. "[Resource parents] understand," adds Mary Lou Edgar, head of AdoptUSKids' Recruitment Response Teams, "how difficult it is to make that first call, to feel vulnerable, to want to move forward, and yet feel so ambivalent." The authentic empathy and patience that experienced parents offer is a huge asset.
- are living role models. "Nothing speaks louder for recruitment than reality," observes one Minnesota resource developer. Potential parents who talk to regular people who are foster or adoptive parents begin to sense that perhaps they too can foster or adopt children.
- understand that the journey doesn't end at placement or finalization. Parents who are already raising foster or adopted children realize that adoption is for life. Again, firsthand knowledge enables resource parents to educate and prepare prospective adopters for a lifelong commitment.
- can capitalize on word-of-mouth recruitment. Joan Rock, Barre SRS's resource coordinator, asserts that, "Word of mouth from resource families continues to be the most effective method of recruitment." By promoting a positive and supportive adoption experience from the very beginning, dedicated resource parents can continually widen the circle of potential parents. Satisfied parents will spread the word.
- offer support that complements what workers do. Tami Lorkovich explains that the adoption navigators spent a lot time at first building relationships with social workers. Now that the program is in its second year, workers can appreciate how navigators save them time by addressing many of new families' questions and concerns.
Parents usually liken the adoption journey to a roller coaster ride rather than an in-brain bowling alley. But in either case, as Sylvia Franzmeier (AdoptUSKids' parent group support manager) wisely insists, "We have to support families we already have as well as the ones who are calling in to begin the adoption process." Luckily, as support groups, mentoring, and other parent-led programs continually prove, experienced and supported resource parents are also well-suited to guide and nurture parents after placement.