Thousands upon thousands of children who have suffered abuse and neglect are in need of a forever adoptive family and a home to call their own. Agencies throughout the country work diligently to find viable foster/adoptive parents for these children. Oftentimes, agency workers turn to formal and informal parent groups because the resources and talents they possess are extremely helpful in the recruitment of families.
Since both parent groups and agencies have the best interests of children in mind, a partnership can have an enormous positive impact on the recruitment and retention of families. As an adoptive parent and a parent group member, I feel that a successful partnership must be based upon mutual respect and allow a framework of independence in order to be effective.
If a parent group is interested in pursuing a partnership, here are some steps that should be taken. First, assess the needs of children and parents to determine how a parent group could benefit both populations. Next, identify the decision-maker within the agency for contractual purposes. Submit a comprehensive plan of services including a mission statement, targeted client population, goals, and objectives. A budget must be developed that includes training, recruiting, and pre-/post-adoption services. It is crucial for the parent group to maintain its independence and provide the agency with expectations in writing.
The possible roles for parent groups are diverse. Oftentimes myths regarding the foster/adoptive process and child placement persist in the community. Parent groups can correct false beliefs about financial factors, family structure issues (single-parent families vs. couples), qualifications, and the entire foster/adoption process. They can explain what agencies are looking for in a family, discuss common fears and false perceptions that families may have, relate the joys and possible problems that may arise, and—most importantly—provide a real-life example of how accessible foster care/adoption can be for the average family. Plus, prospective families tend to feel comfortable communicating with parent group members because of the membersí openness and honesty about their own foster/adoption experience.
Parent groups and agencies can also work as a team to train prospective families. Members can be involved in informational meetings, serve as co-trainers in preparation classes, and assist in writing home studies. The team approach helps reduce the barrier between families and the agency, minimizing breakdowns in communication often related to cultural issues and insensitivity toward families.
Parent group members are the forerunners of recruitment. Adoptive parents today, whether they realize it or not, have a powerful voice. This can be used to strengthen the voices of families, thus preventing frustration and increasing retention by minimizing the potential dropout or selecting out of a family. Parent group members also have the responsibility of educating agency personnel at all levels, reminding them that WE—the families—are the most valuable members on the team.
Another effective and low-cost avenue of recruitment that parent groups may use is the media. Key months to contact television and radio stations and community newspapers are April (Child Abuse Prevention Month), May (Foster Parent Appreciation Month), and November (National Adoption Awareness Month). Use these months to plant the seed that parents are the experts on adoption/foster issues by sending public service announcements, proposals for feature stories to highlight parents and children, and schedules of upcoming events. Local cable channels can be utilized to produce a PSA for your group, and human interest stories are always welcomed by the media. Many families in a group are willing and available to “speak out” regarding the need for foster/adoptive families. The stations may be unable to air your requests in May and November since these are TV sweep months, but they usually are happy to incorporate them in June and December. Repeated, persistent contact can form the foundation of a lasting, community-based media relationship.
Agencies and parent groups share a common goal: to provide children with a positive and healthy family environment. We must continue to work together to that end until every child has a “forever home.”
An extremely helpful aid for parent groups to use is a standard packet of information that is given out or sent to people who request general adoption information. Packets should include a meetings and activities schedule, a list of other services the group has to offer, and a cover letter thanking them for their interest in adoption and inviting them to an upcoming event.
When using the information packet as a recruitment tool, make sure it includes basic information on adoption, similar to How to Adopt; a list of local agencies; and a “Success Sheet,” a brief story of each successful placement in the group. Be sure the language used in publications, letters, and recruiting materials is inclusive for all of the families that may be recruited or worked with, such as single parents, minority families, and empty-nesters. Educating a family about the needs of the kids today will ensure their connection with the group for support and involvement in the future.