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July/August 2008Vol. 9, No. 6Promising Practices in Diligent Recruitment of Foster and Adoptive Families

Recruiting foster and adoptive parents who reflect the race and ethnicity of the children in foster care not only helps agencies meet Federal requirements, it also is a hallmark of best practice in child welfare. The Federal Government helps States promote and support diligent recruitment in three main ways:

  • Training and technical assistance (T&TA)
  • Child welfare monitoring
  • Funding opportunities

As a result of these kinds of efforts by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau, a number of promising practices have emerged in the area of diligent recruitment.

Training and Technical Assistance

Among members of the Children's Bureau Training and Technical Assistance (T&TA) Network, the Collaboration to AdoptUsKids provides the bulk of T&TA on diligent recruitment. AdoptUsKids provides onsite T&TA to States, maintains a national online photolisting of children who need families, and offers resource materials for States and agencies on recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents. The website also includes Spanish-language information about the adoption process and children in the foster care system, and AdoptUsKids has sponsored public service advertising campaigns to publicize its Spanish-language information and increase awareness about adoption among Latino families.

In its T&TA capacity, AdoptUsKids focuses on both the macro and micro issues of recruitment, encouraging States to look at their children and youth data, including age, race, ethnicity, locale, and other needs, to determine placement resource gaps. By comparing their child and family data, States can determine which communities and family characteristics need to be targeted to meet their diligent recruitment goals for all children and youth they serve. By going a step further and using marketing techniques to ascertain lifestyle characteristics of targeted families, it is possible to tailor recruitment messages and methods to reach families in the communities where they live, work, and worship. Implementing recruitment in specific zip codes and neighborhoods and developing community, business, and faith-based partnerships may then help States enhance their diligent recruitment outcomes.

AdoptUsKids also focuses its services on helping States support foster and adoptive families through the process of licensing and/or approving and retaining existing resource families. AdoptUsKids has developed Recruitment Response Teams to assist States in supporting families who call in response to the National Ad Campaign. Through T&TA, AdoptUsKids can help a State and/or Tribe build capacity to recruit, support, and retain specifically targeted populations of families, such as Hispanic, Native American, and/or African-American resource families, and then follow up to help the State maintain and improve its efforts.

In a complementary effort, the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Adoption provides adoption T&TA to States, focusing on helping agencies provide culturally responsive services. The NRC encourages agencies to use a holistic systems perspective that focuses on all the components of their child welfare system. In providing T&TA, the NRC helps States enhance cultural competence of child welfare professionals and engage communities of color and faith-based groups. The NRC also provides guidance to Children's Bureau grantees implementing adoption demonstration projects and encourages minority leadership through the establishment of the Minority Adoption Leadership Development Institute (MALDI). MALDI participants are drawn from States in which minority children are overrepresented in the child welfare system. The focus of MALDI is to develop leaders who can help their States address the overrepresentation through such initiatives as diligent recruitment.

(See the related article in this issue, "New Website on Youth Permanency Grantees".)

Child Welfare Monitoring

The Children's Bureau conducts the Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSRs) to monitor State compliance with Federal laws regarding child welfare, including desired outcomes for child safety, permanency, and well-being. State child welfare systems are evaluated on 45 items, one of which (item 44) requires States to have a plan for diligent recruitment of adoptive and foster parents. States that are not in compliance develop a Program Improvement Plan to address needed changes to improve outcomes for children and families.

In the first round of the CFSRs, 18 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico received a rating of "Strength" for item 44 and their diligent recruitment process. Their CFSR Final Reports relate a number of strategies used by these jurisdictions to recruit foster and adoptive parents who reflect the ethnicity and race of children in foster care, which include:

  • Targeting recruitment activities to the neighborhoods and communities of families who reflect the diversity of children in foster care
  • The establishment of a diversity council to enhance recruitment in the community
  • Helping minority parents meet foster care licensing requirements through special community initiatives
  • Use of the Annie E. Casey Family-to-Family program to establish out-of-home care that is neighborhood-based
  • Participation in the Casey Family Programs' Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Recruitment
  • Recruitment at ethnic and heritage festivals
  • Publicity in ethnic newspapers and on ethnic radio and television stations
  • The use of minority foster and adoptive parents to recruit and mentor other minority parents
  • Establishment of a Hispanic adoption support network
  • Partnerships with African-American churches

Funding Opportunities

States and other jurisdictions, as well as agencies, universities, and other nonprofit groups, have received Children's Bureau Adoption Opportunities (AO) Discretionary Grants to improve adoption outcomes for children in foster care. In a number of cases, these grants have been used to support diligent recruitment efforts. Several examples follow, each one illustrating a creative promising practice:

  • A 2002 AO grant to Loving Homes of Denver, CO, funded the Me and My Shadow Program. This mentoring program focused on recruiting and matching mentors to Hispanic youth awaiting adoption. In a number of cases, the mentoring relationship led to adoption. The recruiting component of the program included publicity efforts at Hispanic churches and community events and in the local media.
  • The DePelchin Children's Center in Houston, TX, received an AO grant in 2002 to fund Creating Adoption Neighborhoods. Using social marketing in predominantly African-American rural neighborhoods, the project began with an outreach campaign designed to send the message that "adoption is the norm." The campaign involved easy access to parent training for interested families and well-publicized information about adoption and supports for families. Early evaluations documented both growing awareness of the value of adoption, as well as increased foster and adoptive placements in targeted neighborhoods.
  • In 2002, Another Choice for Black Children of North Carolina used its funds to start Project MECCA (Men Embracing Children Collectively Through Adoption), which focused on recruiting married and single African-American men to become adoptive parents. During the first year, the project focused on extensive outreach to the community, including sharing information in places like barbershops and churches. Other recruitment efforts included a Black Male Summit, mentoring programs, and community service activities.
  • A 2003 AO grant to the Virginia Department of Social Services involved working with the Virginia One Church One Child Program, partnering with more than 300 churches to find homes for African-American and other children in foster care.
  • Spaulding for Children of Houston, TX, received a 2003 AO grant to oversee the Rural Adoption Partnership to reach out to prospective families in rural areas, especially the majority Hispanic population. Recruitment and support services were designed to be culturally sensitive and available in Spanish. The partnership included involvement with Catholic parishes, missions, and other religious institutions in targeted communities.
  • In 2008, the Children's Bureau announced a new AO grant specifically for diligent recruitment ( Grantees will collaborate with AdoptUsKids to develop and incorporate diligent recruitment programs "for a range of resource families for children in foster care, including kinship, foster, concurrent and adoptive families."