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May 2000Vol. 1, No. 3Recruiting Families for Special Needs Children

How can agencies find special families to adopt or foster parent "special needs" children—children who are older, are part of a sibling group, have a physical or mental disability, or belong to a racial or ethnic minority? Zena Oglesby, director of the Institute for Black Parenting in California, and Luis Tamayo, recruitment coordinator for the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), shared some ideas at the 6th National Child Welfare Conference (March 28-31 in Arlington, Virginia).

Keep strategies simple, advised Oglesby. His presentation focused on four main areas: targeting, advertising, outreach, and retention.


  • Aim recruitment efforts at groups with high rates of retention such as people whose grown children have left home and people involved in community and civic activities, suggested Oglesby. Promising places for advertising and outreach to empty nesters include churches, supermarkets, social clubs, and bowling leagues. To reach community-minded people, target fraternal organizations, unions, youth leagues, school-related groups, and public employees.
  • To recruit families willing to adopt biracial children, target communities such as university towns and military bases.
  • Participate in joint recruitment fairs with public and private agencies.
  • Target holidays, such as Mother's Day and Christmas.


  • According to Oglesby, black families are more likely to respond to radio than to TV advertising. Place radio ads on local, urban, and contemporary stations.
  • Similarly, Oglesby's organization has had more success advertising in "throw-away" community newspapers than in paid subscription newspapers. For example, an ad placed in The Wave, a free community newspaper, produced many inquiries for the Institute for Black Parenting, while ads in the Los Angeles Times and The Sentinel, a black subscription newspaper, did not produce any calls.
  • Hire an inexpensive door-to-door flyer delivery service.
  • Highlight men in advertising campaigns, because, in general, men are harder to recruit.
  • Highlight adoptive parents in ads, rather than celebrities, who tend to create name recognition only.
  • Advertise in beauty shops and barbershops that specialize in serving African-American clients.


  • Educate foster parents about adoption, Oglesby urged. Explain that they won't lose benefits under the Federal Adoption Assistance Program when adopting hard-to-place foster children.
  • Ask adoptive parents to tell their stories to groups of prospective families.
  • Ask churches to participate in outreach.
  • Continue to invite prospective parents who have called within the previous year to orientation sessions.


To retain families once they have been recruited, Oglesby suggests the following:

  • Quickly enroll families in foster care training.
  • Get homes studies started immediately. Hire outside contractors to conduct home studies if necessary.
  • Send staff to answer pre-orientation questions and conduct pre-certification walk-throughs.
  • Help prospective parents fill out applications.
  • Keep prospects informed of their status through regular communications.
  • Sponsor meetings for waiting parents featuring introductions of available children by social workers.
  • Network with other agencies and workers.

Tamayo shared his agency's ongoing efforts as well as innovative ideas for recruiting families for children with special needs. According to Tamayo, efforts based on grassroots community outreach and technology have been particularly successful.

Ongoing Recruitment Efforts

New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services has tried the following recruitment strategies, according to Tamayo:

  • A toll-free number, operated by a private agency, for prospective adoptive parents to call to learn about adopting children within the State's child welfare system
  • A statewide billboard campaign to promote adoption that includes the toll-free number.
  • Extensive statewide newspaper ad campaign promoting special needs adoptions, especially those which target ethnic minorities.
  • Waiting Children profile magazine published three times a year.
  • Radio and television public service announcements regarding adoption in English and Spanish.

Innovative ideas

Tamayo outlined innovations introduced by New Jersey DYFS:

  • N.J. Transit publicity campaign featuring ads placed on monitors at train stations, showing waiting children.
  • Adoption ads placed at NJ turnpike toll booth entrances.
  • Inserts promoting adoption of special needs children sent with information from the Department of Motor Vehicles regarding license and registration renewal.

Grassroots Outreach

Tamayo described the following outreach strategies used in New Jersey:

  • The Division' of Youth and Family Services maintains five recruitment offices throughout the State. In each satellite office, recruitment officers familiarize themselves with the specific demographics of the communities they are serving.
  • The Division establishes partnerships with private adoption agencies to locate homes for special needs children.
  • A division-sponsored "recruitment mobile" has proved particularly successful, Tamayo reported. A recreational vehicle stocked with various recruitment materials visits communities. Prospective adoptive and foster families can visit the mobile to view videos of waiting children and pick up applications.
  • The State has forged agreements with numerous municipalities to include adoption messages several times each year with public employees' paychecks.


Several of New Jersey's strategies rely on technology, said Tamayo, including the following:

  • An interactive website ( features videos of waiting children playing and talking about themselves. The site gets about 1,000 hits per week.
  • The State sponsors an online system to match prospective adoptive parents with waiting children.
  • The State offers video/telephone conferencing so families in one State can talk with a child living in another State.

For more information, contact:
Zena Oglesby, Jr.
Executive Director
Institute for Black Parenting
1299 E. Artesia Blvd.
Suite 200
Carson, CA 90746
Tel.: 310-900-0930
Fax: 310-900-0948

Luis E. Tamayo
Recruitment Coordinator
New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services
50 East State St.
PO Box 717
Trenton, NJ 08625
Tel.: (609) 292-2656
Fax: (609) 984-5449

Related Item

For more information, also see "Help With Recruiting Adoptive Families" in this issue of Children's Bureau Express.