by Ja-Neen Jones, MSOL
Ja-Neen Jones is the Director of Adoption & Foster Care Services at TRAC Services for Families, where she oversees TRAC’s Black Adoption Services (BAS). As a member of the executive team, she is actively involved in program development and assists with the fiscal and budgetary processes. For more information about the specialized supportive services or the checklist described below, contact Ja-Neen at 412-471-8722 x230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every year more than 25,000 youth age out of the foster care system with no permanent connections to a family. We all know that there continues to be a disproportionate amount of African American youth that remain far too long in foster care and continue to wait for a forever home.
My passion has always been to advocate for these children and be a voice for the voiceless. My agency, TRAC Services for Families, has done a fine job at recruiting families through targeted recruiting, our ministry outreach program, and building strong community connections. We intentionally hire African American recruiters who are culturally humble and knowledgeable on resources and communities that represent the children in care. Our recruiting efforts are solid but there continues to be a gap in retaining families of color.
In 2020, I had the opportunity to participate in the AdoptUSKids Minority Professional Leadership Development (MPLD) program. (Learn more at adoptuskids.org/mpld.) The purpose of experience was for emerging minority leaders to work on a data-driven project that addressed an issue that would create a positive change for the children in need of permanency, and to identify and break down barriers that families of color were experiencing. The ultimate goal was to effect systemic change by implementing new and creative strategies that impact the outcomes for children.
My proposed action research project was to determine if we could increase the retention and approval of African American families by providing specialized and individualized supports such as:
- Aid with obtaining clearances
- Face-to-face assistance with paperwork
- Immediate assignment to a profile/home study writer
- Ongoing support through the approval process
Research shows that there is a disproportionate number of children of color in foster care throughout the county. Currently, in Allegheny County (Pennsylvania), African Americans make up 14 percent of the population, while nearly 58 percent of the children in care are African American. The goal and struggle for us, like so many child welfare agencies, is to recruit and retain enough people of color to foster/adopt the youth in care.
During FY 2018–2019 TRAC’s recruitment efforts resulted in 114 individuals of color beginning the approval process. However, only six of these families completed the process. These numbers were devastating to our organization, but most importantly to the children waiting for a family! After careful consideration, my proposed plan was to conduct surveys with current families and staff and conduct interviews with recruited families that did not complete the process to determine why we were missing the ball on moving African American families from recruitment to approval.
Our assumptions were that families thought:
- There were too many trainings.
- There was too much paperwork.
- They needed financial assistance for clearances.
- Child care was not offered during on site trainings.
- Communication between prospective parents and staff wasn’t sufficient.
Family surveys identified that 98 percent of the families were either very satisfied or satisfied with TRAC staff when they made the initial call to the organization. About 85 percent were more knowledge about the foster/adoption process after completing the orientation. This was enlightening and it was clear we did well with explaining the process to families.
After further review of the qualitative data, the key takeaway was the need for increase/improved communication. Some families said that they were not sure of the next steps once they started the trainings. Others stated that there was a delay in follow-up calls/emails.
Staff surveys indicated that 99 percent of the staff believed that TRAC provides culturally competent services. They also addressed communication, with 50 percent of the team stating the need for improvement to increase its effectiveness throughout the process. Staff also stated the need for ongoing training regarding the intake and approval process given the increase in new staff.
Interviews were conducted with families who completed an intake the previous year but did not complete the process to determine why they did not follow through. Our goal included identifying barriers that prohibited them from moving forward. During the interview process, the retention worker reached 10 of the more than 40 families to whom we reached out.
Implementing a New Support Approach
After we gathered data, we worked with staff to discuss and develop an intervention. Our process includes:
- Review — We went over the numbers from the previous year: of 114 African American families’ recruited only six families were approved.
- Reflect — The team discussed what could have been done differently and identified their part in the number of families that dropped out of the process.
- Remind — We reminded the team why they are here, what’s the purpose in their position, and how their work affects the agency’s mission—to ensure stable relationships and build strong community connections.
Using this strategy, the team created a new approach to retain the African American families we worked so hard to recruit. We now have a recruiter/ retention worker, who is also a foster parent, follow a Specialized Supportive Service (SSS) Checklist, which focuses on relationships through the approval process. (See page 11.)
The SSS Checklist tracks the progress of families from intake to approval and involves the recruiter/retention worker reaching out every week. She connects weekly (by phone and/or in person) with prospective families to talk about what to expect, ask how she can assist the family, and gather essential information to aid in their approval process.
First and foremost, it was important to have the worker establish a relationship with the families and ask them, “What do you need to succeed?” In the past, we had simply allowed families to respond or not—to take their time. Now we knew we had to establish a relationship with them and be there to meet their specific needs. Through the SSS program, we could now offer one-on-one trainings, financial assistance with clearances and other approval requirements, help with paperwork, furniture referrals, financial assistance with renters insurance, and other supports as needed. These relationships allowed us to find ways to rule people in the process as opposed to ruling them out.
For example, when Ms. Jackson’s background clearance was completed, it showed she had an old citation that could have caused her to not be approved. Since we had established a great relationship with her, she trusted the team to successfully advocate for her in a strengths-based manner with the county agency. With our advocacy, she was able to become a parent to a child in need.
We now know that Retention Requires Relationships that Result in Recruiting Rewards.
The goal is to approve families in 90 days. By following the data, we were able to prove that if African American families received weekly contact and specialized supports, the likelihood of them completing the process and being approved increased.
The results of this new strategy has been tremendous! Since July 2020:
- 30 new African American families have completed an intake
- 12 have been approved
- 10 have received a placement
- 11 are still in the process
While recruiting has been limited due to COVID-19, our retention services have increased. The SSS Checklist approach has increased staff accountability and is used as a proactive measure to assure families do not fall through the cracks.
Below are some specific stories of families we were able to help after we reached out to interview them during the data-gathering phase.
Ms. Simon completed her initial intake in 2019. Fostering had always been her goal, but she always had an issue that kept her from moving forward. After speaking with our retention worker, she realized now was the time. She stated:
- Virtual trainings made it easy for her.
- Professional and friendly staff was awesome.
- Timing is EVERYTHING, I am so glad I received that call.
Ms. Simon completed the process and received a placement of a girl who is medically fragile right after being approved. She is moving toward adopting her daughter.
Ms. Jackson has one birth child and always wanted more children, but her hectic schedule prevented her from starting the process before. She let us know that great communication from the retention worker and profile writer aided in her staying on track this time. Ms. Jackson completed the process and has proven to be an extremely nurturing and loving parent who has fostered several children since being approved.
Mrs. Moon previously contacted the agency, but did not follow through because her husband was not ready to foster. Once the retention worker contacted them, the recruiter was able to complete an individual orientation to address Mr. Moon’s concerns and educate the family on the types of children in foster care. They informed us that the reason they followed through this time was due to the supports they received and the ongoing communication with the staff, making the process easier. This family noted that once they met the profile writer, the following supportive services provided included:
- Individual trainings
- Flexible schedule
TRAC will continue to measure our outcomes and strategies through family and staff feedback assessments throughout the year. Recruiting and retaining families of color is critical in decreasing the over-representation of African American youth who continue to linger in the child welfare system. The SSS approach is proving to be an effective tool for addressing barriers faced by African American families, ensuring increased availability to meet that need.
Items in the TRAC SSS Checklist © 2021
Family Name: ___________________________________________________
- Primary race/ethnicity/ancestry of the family:
- If Native American/Alaskan Native, please specify your tribe:
Intake Date: _______________ Orientation Date: ___________________
Training Start Date: _________ Training Completion Date: ___________
Approval Date: _____________
Please indicate the following:
Immediately assigned to retention worker:
Immediate scheduled orientation within the week (within 1 week of intake):
Scheduled families for training within one week of completing orientation (*Note: If family is not able to attend training immediately schedule virtual and/or in home trainings — this situation should be determined from the weekly contact):
Retention and/or profile worker maintained weekly contact with family to determine what specialized supports are needed that would prolong approval:
Provided financial assistance with clearances:
Provided financial assistance with First-Aid/CPR:
Conducted face to face assistance with paperwork:
Conducted an individual orientation meeting:
Provided computer assistance (family does not have access at home):
Conducted in home trainings:
Other supportive services provided:
If family stopped services, list why and include date: