The first thing to remember about the data used to analyze recruitment and retention is that some of it is already in your hands. Much of the information has been captured by your agency in a variety of ways. The key is to pull it all together and find out what it reveals about strengths and gaps in your recruitment and retention process.
We have identified three types of data that can be explored in this way.
Tracking the process from inquiry to certification: data captured during the solicitation, engagement, and certification of prospective foster families.
Defining the characteristics of current and needed homes: data that provides a profile of the current foster homes and the characteristics of the children they are able to care for, compared to the needs of children coming into care.
Identifying retention successes and challenges: data that is collected about both current and former foster/adoptive homes.
These three types of data are central to review while developing a robust diligent recruitment process. Analyzing this type of information can illuminate trends, provide perspective, and help strategically address recruitment and retention needs.
Data alone won't provide you with the steps to take toward a more effective recruitment plan. The key, of course, is how that data is used by your team. Analysis is the first step in making sense of the data you've collected, and in identifying strengths and gaps in your agency's approach, and the underlying conditions contributing to those strengths and gaps. This information helps you address current recruitment needs and plan for future recruitment challenges.
Part of this process is to use data to identify root causes and underlying factors. For example, the data shows a sudden increase in the numbers of infants coming into foster care. Is this a result of a heroin "epidemic" in the area? The number of Spanish-speaking teens has risen dramatically. Has there been a change in employment patterns in the community? Is this trend likely to continue?
Similarly, the data may show a shift in the ethnic backgrounds or primary language of children coming into care. Your team may find that changing immigration patterns in your area are the root cause of this shift. Identifying root causes of changing data trends helps agencies to be prepared to respond appropriately.
Tracking from inquiry to certification: review the data from records related to the solicitation, engagement, and certification of prospective foster families.
Characteristics of current and needed homes: analyze the data that describes the characteristics of current foster homes and children in care.
Retention successes and challenges: use your retention and survey results to get an accurate picture of how well your retention efforts are working.
The Action Plan serves as a strategic map that captures the essential aims of the recruitment plan. It should be a "live" document that can be revised and refined as needed. It also can be used as a vehicle for moving projects forward and evaluating levels of success.
All members of the Recruitment & Retention Team should be involved in developing the plan. Start your work by asking several key questions:
The team should also consider their goals in a realistic light, taking into account agency resources and staff time. For example, consider whether a goal of certifying ten more foster families that meet the needs of children in care is reasonable in terms of the staff time and expense required to carry out the plan.
Click here, to follow the steps in developing an Action Plan.
Numerous evidence-based programs and strategies have been developed for meeting a variety of identified needs in the recruitment and retention of foster parents.
Some of the most successful strategies are summarized in an earlier resource, Revitalizing Recruitment.
The National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment website (www.nrcdr.org) has ideas from the field for working with diverse populations, recruiting for tribes, and strategies to improve placement stability and permanency. The site describes the work done by Diligent Recruitment Grantees, and provides documents that can be replicated or adapted for your work (e.g., surveys, tracking tools, recruitment brochures).
The Child Welfare Information Gateway has posted a synthesis of the programs that have received funding for Diligent Recruitment of Families for Children in the Foster Care System.
What to do when your team gets stuck.
Creating an Action Plan is one of the more difficult stages in the diligent recruitment process. At this stage, it's not unusual for team members to say:
"We don't have enough time for this."
"We've already tried that."
"This is impractical."
"The rest of the agency won't support this."
… or there is silence around the table.
These responses are a natural reaction to change and the discomfort that accompanies change. In fact, these reactions may indicate that your discussions are tapping into something important. This kind of tension may arise from a fear of the unknown. At the root, it may be a real concern that the planned actions will fail, with possible consequences for the team members.
Try to get the team members to describe what they are experiencing. Encourage them to fully express their underlying concerns. The team leader must be authentic during this process and talk about what is being experienced. Once the real issues are brought forward and strong emotions can be diminished, the team can refocus on the tasks at hand.
Once an Action Plan has been written, work should begin as soon as possible. This allows your team to maximize the interest and good will generated during the planning process. Also, the sooner you start trying new strategies, the sooner your recruitment challenges will be addressed.
Review the membership of the Recruitment & Retention Team; getting the work done depends on having the right people assigned to the planned tasks. Carrying out the plan touches on roles and responsibilities across the agency, not just the homefinding unit.
It also is essential that agency leadership supports and approves the Action Plan. Ideally, the agency director and supervisory staff have been part of the data review and Action Plan development. If not, they should have been regularly informed of and asked for their feedback on the team's deliberations and the data behind the Action Plan.
Change can be difficult; it's normal to run into snags. Here are some tips on avoiding the usual pitfalls:
Don't tackle everything at once. Try to change only two or three things at one time. First, focus on tasks that will require the least amount of change. These will be the least disruptive to the current system and can be authorized quickly. Consider which tasks can be authorized by the Recruitment & Retention Team and which will require further review and approval. After the first project is underway, determine the steps that will be necessary to take on bigger challenges. Completing one step at a time will make a complicated objective easier to manage.
Keep the long-term goal in mind. When day-to-day pressures creep in, deal with the matters at hand, but continue to focus on your longer-term recruitment and retention strategies. For example, once you've found a home to meet an immediate need to provide care for a large sibling group, remember to come back to your longer-term goals for meeting the needs of all children coming into care.
Be willing to let go of old ideas. For example, your agency has held a "foster parent appreciation" event every year. A survey finds, however, that foster parents rank "more flexible respite care" as most important, with the annual event ranking fourth. It makes sense to focus staff time and effort on creatively meeting respite needs, rather than on holding an event just because "we do this every year."
Achieving your recruitment and retention goals requires coordination and communication among team members.
Ongoing communication is supported by:
Updating the Action Plan. The Action Plan is a vehicle for communication among members of the team, and with others at your agency. Updating the Action Plan regularly and sharing this roadmap with your team and other stakeholders keeps everyone in the loop and builds investment in shared goals. It also builds accountability, reminding everyone who is responsible for which task, and when it has to be done.
Holding regular team meetings. Meeting regularly to share updates and plan next steps is important for coordination, but it also "holds the space" outside the usual day-to-day pressures for your team to strategize long term goals for recruitment. Taking time to meet as a team sends a message about the value your agency places on recruitment and retention.
Celebrating successes. This is challenging work, and every accomplishment is worthwhile. Perhaps your agency has created a new community partnership to help get out the message about the need for foster homes for older youth. This is a triumph! Or perhaps your agency has certified ten more homes this year than it did last year. Pause and celebrate this success.
So you've collected and analyzed your data, used it to understand your recruitment program's strengths and gaps, put together an Action Plan to address your challenges, and implemented new approaches. Trying new strategies takes a lot of energy, and you need to know that your efforts are producing hoped-for results. How do you know whether your new strategies are working?
Measuring progress is a continuous process. A portion of every recruitment team meeting should be devoted to reviewing the results of the strategies and tasks outlined in the Action Plan (listed in the Outcomes column below). What tasks have been completed? What were the outcomes of the completed tasks, and did they meet the objectives? Some tasks may have not been completed within the expected time frame. Should they be revised or discarded? Read more. . .