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Repetition and Consistency Are Key in Recruiting Efforts

by Lisa Lumpe and Jill Frost

Lisa Lumpe and Jill Frost founded Lumpe & Frost, The Recruitment Solution in 1998 to help agencies from around the country with their efforts to recruit families for waiting children. Since 1999, Lisa and Jill have been working with public agencies in Georgia, and below they share lessons learned in recent years. To contact Lumpe & Frost, The Recruitment Solution, call 614-436-8453 or write to lumpe@megsinet.com.

To achieve business success, companies keep their message in front of consumers in both good times and bad. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s come quickly to mind when we think of burgers and fries because they advertise constantly and maintain high visibility, even when it seems they don’t need to. In the business of child welfare, repetition and consistency are even more important.

Unfortunately, child welfare staff face an uphill battle when it comes to recruiting families. First, we must make sure the children are okay. Are they in a good placement? Is counseling or medication helping? How is school going? There’s hardly time to find permanent families, and rarely a generous advertising budget.

Recruitment, however, is residual or circular; efforts you make now may not pay off until much later. And we aren’t selling hamburgers. We’re asking people to make major lifestyle changes and commit to children whose lives are colored by loss and instability. Through repetition and consistency, we must give prospective parents ample time to consider fostering and adopting, as well as the information they need to act when the time is right.

Right now is a good time to evaluate where your recruitment program has been, and look forward to where your agency wants to be. Start planning ahead for next year by developing a calendar of recruitment activities (see below).

 
Adoption Party/ Video Conference
Community Events
Message Dissemination Activities
Work with the Media/ Wednesday's Child
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Possible Recruitment Activities

Chances to recruit families are endless. Talking with neighbors about adoption is one end of the spectrum. Coordinating a big event involving businesses, media, and children falls at the other end. In between is anything you can imagine and find time for. The important thing is to maintain a consistent level of visibility for your agency and your message.

When organizing your calendar:

  • Start by planning big events. (Read about our Georgia events at the end of this article.) These events should enable prospective adopters to meet the children who need permanent families, or heighten public awareness on a large scale. Matching parties are an option, as are Adoption Month events involving local government and businesses.

    Start planning well ahead of the event (several months to a year ahead). That way you have time to reserve a location, solicit contributions, and develop media interest. At the event, make certain that all participants know what to expect, and what is expected of them. After the event, be prepared to address families’ responses.

  • Participate in established community events. We like health fairs and community festivals because they enable us to easily reach lots of people. Booth space is usually inexpensive (or even free). Candy and small promotional items are also inexpensive. Ease the burden on agency workers by asking foster parents and volunteers to help.

    Look to your local chamber of commerce or the parks and recreation department for event information. Neighborhood newspapers may also list upcoming events, including those geared toward children and families.

  • Plan some other message dissemination activities, alone or in partnership with other community agencies. Prayer breakfasts, church bulletin inserts, payroll inserts, and posters are just a few great ways to effectively and frequently get your message and identity out without spending too much time or money. Evaluate each activity. If representatives from only two churches come to your breakfast, is it a success? Well, maybe these two clergy represent congregations of 100 to 1,000 people. If they go back and share your message and recruit some foster or adoptive parents, then "yes!"

  • Work with the media. Before every event, we distribute press releases and public service announcements that identify the agency sponsoring the activity and the project goal. Radio and TV interviews are also a good (and free) way to advertise the agency’s ongoing needs and upcoming events.

    We also interview local foster and adoptive families for newspaper stories that may coincide with an event. Print features tell readers about people just like them who are taking care of kids from foster care. Done well, these pieces gently encourage readers to consider becoming foster or adoptive parents.

  • Steal ideas, and learn from others. We have more than 23 years of recruiting experience between us, but know that both a 30-year veteran of child welfare and someone new to the field can offer great ideas and perspectives.

    Earlier this year, a Georgia recruiter told us about how a secretary at a public agency found an adoptive family for a child in need. Now we recommend that agencies keep every employee informed about the agency’s waiting children; you never know where your next adoptive family may come from.

Lessons Learned

We have had great success working with Georgia, but it was not always smooth sailing. Case managers did not know our work or how the events might pan out, but they took a leap of faith in the hopes of finding more families for their children. Keep these tips in mind when working on next year’s recruitment campaign:

  • Don’t shoot down new ideas just because they sound like too much work, are too different, or seem to cost too much money.

  • Consider the return on investment for each activity. How many families were recruited and how many children were placed compared to the time and money spent? How much does it cost to keep a child in foster care?

  • If the events seem worthwhile, keep trying. The first event may not look like much, but maybe the second or third event will really pay off.

  • Build momentum through advertising and repeating events. If Georgia workers had stopped after our first event (where only 25 kids and 17 families showed and few matches resulted), they would never have experienced the wonderful successes we have had since then–including a teenage brother and sister who found a family after living in foster care most of their lives, and another sibling pair who found a family after attending two events.

  • Big events don’t have to be held in May (National Foster Care Month) or November (National Adoption Month). Other times may work even better for the children and the families you want to include.

Children deserve loving, permanent homes. It’s up to us to keep reminding our communities of the need for families. One family may step forward after only a single reminder; others may not act until the tenth message reaches through to them. If you repeat your message often and identify your agency consistently, families will know where to come when they are ready to welcome a new child into their lives.


Benefits of Events Where Children and Families Interact

Since 1999, we have been working with Georgia to recruit families for waiting children. For their public agencies, adoption parties and videoconferences have succeeded for several reasons:

  • The children are well-prepared for the events, and know that families who are interested in adopting older children will attend. They meet and interact with families in person during the party, and with families from around the state via videoconference. Kids like having some control over what placement might be planned for them.

  • Families who meet children awaiting adoption can more easily envision having a new child in their home. They also appreciate that these events enable them to be more actively involved in the matching process.

  • Some children who do not present very well on a flyer, web site, or videotape can be very engaging in person. We have seen many families at these events who come looking for one younger child, and leave knowing that they just met their kids–a sibling group! The events really help families to re-define their "ideal" child and consider each child for who he or she is rather than how the child appears on paper.

  • We plan low-key activities–outdoor picnics and games like basketball or volleyball, or indoor arts and crafts projects along with music and food. If events look too planned, families and children find the party more intimidating and find it hard to relax and interact. Simple parties also cost less.

Below is a summary of results from the 16 events we held in Georgia between November 1999 and July 2002:

  • 284 children attended (some more than once).
  • 289 families attended (again, some more than once).
  • 325 families participated in an adoption videoconference.
  • At least one family expressed interest in 191 (or 67 percent) of the 284 children, and so far, workers report that more than 35 percent of the children have been placed in adoptive families.

 

 


North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848
e-mail: info@nacac.org
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