Recruiting on a Budget
from Summer 2003 Adoptalk
by Diane Riggs
Around the U.S. and in some parts of Canada, child welfare budgets are shrinking at an alarming rate. At the same time, the number of children who need permanent homes is rising or, at best, staying about the same. The good news is that you and your agency or organization can successfully recruit families for waiting children without going broke. The trick is to maximize resources and create opportunities.
Work with the Media
Media can be a powerful tool for broadcasting a message, but obtaining access may be more challenging. Below are a few ideas for getting the most coverage for the least cost.
Wednesday´s Child Features: If your local television station does not already run a regular waiting child feature, and your agency has access to children for whom televised publicity is appropriate, arrange to start a feature. Television producers should appreciate the human interest value of such a project, the flexibility of using pre-taped segments, and the public good will that such features can generate for the station. The Adoption Exchange in Colorado has been working with KCNC, a local CBS affiliate, on a weekly Wednesday´s Child feature since 1978. During its 25-year partnership with the Adoption Exchange, KCNC has profiled more than 1,050 children and roughly 75 percent of those featured have found adoptive families. Because the feature keeps the public aware of the need for adoptive families, hundreds of children not featured have also joined permanent families. KCNC sometimes shares its expertise with other stations and helps them to start waiting child features and produce primetime adoption specials. To learn more, call KCNC at 303-861-4444 or visit www.kcncnews4.com.
Cable Access Programming: Cable companies are required by law to set aside channels for free community access programming. Anyone can submit a pre-recorded tape to the station or produce a show. Need training? For a small fee, most community access stations offer classes about operating cameras and other equipment needed to make a show or produce a public service announcement (PSA). Stations dole out time slots for shows on a first-come, first-served basis, and typically use PSAs for filler. Pat O´Brien, founder and executive director of You Gotta Believe! The Older Child Adoption & Permanency Movement, Inc., produces a 28-minute show that airs in two time slots one day a week. The show, titled The Adopting Teens and ´Tweens Show, consists of taped prospective adoptive parent training sessions that You Gotta Believe! runs. Some sessions involve a panel of waiting teens sharing their stories; others focus on the importance of sibling connections.
The show that airs publicly helps to raise general awareness about adoption and has brought some families forward. So far, however, nearly all the matches have resulted from live interaction between teens and the "studio audience." Find links to cable access stations in your state or province at www.ourchannels.org/?page_id=56 (the Alliance for Community Media in the U.S.) or www.crtc.gc.ca (the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission).
Newsletters and News Magazines: Most well-established parent support groups produce a newsletter, and are always looking for content. If you can supply a picture and profile of a waiting child, many groups will happily print the material without charge. Large companies also produce newsletters, and many editors will be receptive to the idea of adding a waiting child feature to the company bulletin.
Parenthood.com is a national organization that oversees parenting periodicals in 13 states, including California, New York, Texas, and Minnesota. Minnesota Parent appears monthly in free displays located at chain grocery stores, YMCAs, and large retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. Nonprofit organizations can submit PSA listings without charge, and anyone can submit news about a family-oriented event for the monthly calendar. To find out if your state has a parenting magazine, visit www.parenthood.com and click on "Local Sites."
Take Advantage of Internet Resources
For children who are properly prepared and suited for Internet photolistings, no-cost opportunities abound. Below are some of the best. AdoptUsKids.org: The Collaboration to AdoptUSKids is a federally funded project that aims, through its web site and other activities, to enhance adoptive family recruitment and retention. Any agency or professional who becomes a member of the site (through a no-cost application process), can register waiting children to appear on the site. Once a child is registered, the site member can update the child´s information and respond to inquiries from families through the site. To learn more, call 888-200-4005, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.adoptuskids.org. Adoption.com: Billed as the largest and most frequently visited adoption web site on the Internet, Adoption.com reaches hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. Their "Adoptable Kids" photolisting of children who have special needs is a popular destination for visitors, and is also promoted by adopting.org and adoption.org. Best of all, agencies can submit profiles of children for the listing without any charge and with very little effort. If you have already listed children on another site, Adoption.com (with your permission) can simply add the child profiles to Adoption.com from the other site. Adoption.com will even keep your listings updated by doing a monthly check of the other site and adding or removing entries to match that site. To learn more, call 800-ADOPT-HERE or send a message to email@example.com.
Canadaswaitingkids.ca: Run by the Adoption Council of Canada, Canada´s Waiting Children program is available to agencies in every province. On the Internet, ACC runs waiting child photos with profiles that contain no identifying information. The program also produces a waiting child booklet that contains more listings than appear on the password-protected web site. When families express interest in a child, ACC refers them to the appropriate worker or agency. Learn more by calling 888-542-3678 or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enlist Community Support
Community members (through schools, churches, businesses, etc.) play a part in raising the community´s children. They can also help to find families for waiting children and provide continuing support after adoption.
Personal Advocates: Diane Delafield, founding director of Campaigns for Kids in North Carolina, suggests that agencies give community members chances to become a child´s personal advocate. Good prospects for this type of work may include people who have contacted the agency, but are not yet ready to foster or adopt. Personal advocates (one advocate per child or sibling group) work to find an adoptive home for "their child." Advocates make phone calls, speak at churches or schools, carry photos and information about the children, and make it part of their daily mission to seek out possible adoptive resources for waiting youth.
Church Members: To help church members take up the adoption cause, recruiters must invest time in developing a solid working relationship with the faith community´s leader. Then, when offered the opportunity to present before the congregation, recruiters should deliver the message within the context of a regular service. Meredith Jeffers, an adoption trainer and consultant from Connecticut, suggests for instance, that a children´s sermon about different types of families can help to convey the need for foster and adoptive families. Once recruiters are recognized as leaders in the church, Ms. Jeffers adds, parishioners will be more open to approaching them during fellowship time.
Partners: To host a larger recruitment eventa matching party, for instanceagencies may need to pool resources with other agencies and seek help from community groups and businesses to stay within budget. One key to good collaboration, as with most successful joint ventures, is the creation and maintenance of good relationships. Friends are much more likely to help than strangers.
In June, Kinship, a collaboration of the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange and several nonprofit adoption agencies, held the 14th annual Kinship Adoption Festivala large party for waiting children and prospective adoptive parents. Over the years, reports Jean Stenzel of Forever Families, Inc. (a Kinship partner), dwindling funds have forced them to look for ways to save money on the event. This year, for instance:
- The party took place at an elementary school (which was much cheaper to rent during the summer than other large event venues).
- The menu was simple and inexpensive (discounted hot dogs from a local food distributor, chips, and soda).
- Social workers and unpaid volunteers staffed the event.
- Event planners solicited donations from local businesses and larger corporations.
Stay Open to Creative Possibilities
People who are committed to recruiting permanent families for children who wait, make raising awareness an active part of their daily life. Everyone in your agency or group can do something to spread the message about waiting children. Some suggestions:
- Talk to neighbors about adoption, educate your friends, and spread the word among strangers you meet on planes, in waiting rooms, etc.
- Wear T-shirts or buttons that invite others to ask about adoption.
- Talk with the child who is waiting and learn how he feels about different adults in his life (teachers, coaches, past foster parents, neighbors, church members, etc.). Older children can be especially good at identifying their own adoptive resources, and may appreciate having the opportunity to play a significant role in finding a family.
- Send child-specific information to special interest groups whose interests match those of the child.
- Host neighborhood information parties in foster or adoptive parents´ homes and invite families who have expressed an interest in adoption but are not very far in the process.
- Include profiles of medically fragile waiting children in professional publications for health care workers.
- Offer to present adoption information to a group of teachers. Give them ideas for handling adoption issues in the classroom, and make them aware of children in the community who need permanent homes.
Even if your agency´s recruiting budget has dropped significantly, you can still recruit families for waiting children. Focus on establishing good relationships within your community, take advantage of and create opportunities for sharing the need for permanent families, and when possible, involve waiting children in the process of identifying adoptive resources. Possibilities for making a positive difference in waiting children´s lives are as endless as your imagination.