Child-specific recruitment strategies focus on finding a foster or adoptive home for a particular child. There are different types of child-specific recruitment: developing kinship homes, child-focused recruitment, child-specific publicity, and photolistings on websites and social media.
Developing kinship homes was the “original” form of child-specific recruitment, and continues to be a critical strategy for finding homes that best meet children’s needs. A kinship home can be ideal in that it provides continuity with the child’s culture and creates permanency with family members.
In some areas, the kinship family may be an under-utilized or misunderstood resource. The old adage, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” has sometimes been used to justify why grandparents, other relatives, and family friends are not recruited or developed as foster parents. Current practice models focus on the strengths of family networks, recognizing that while some family members may be less functional and less capable of helping family members, most family networks have members with functional strengths (Hillside Institute for Family Connections, 2014).
Recruiting kinship families involves a slightly different approach than those used in recruiting non-relatives. Kinship families often enter the child welfare system during a family crisis. New York allows relatives of a child to be certified or approved as an emergency foster home if the child is being removed from his/her home by a court order or if the child’s case record indicates a compelling reason to place him/her with a relative.
Under these circumstances, safety and risk assessments and home studies are done on an expedited basis. For example, within seven days, the placement agency must submit a Statewide Central Register database form of each person 18 years of age or older in the home [18 NYCRR 443.7].
If the child is being placed with urgency, kinship families may need supports from the agency to complete their home study and a personalized orientation session focusing on their immediate needs. (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). Recruiting kinship homes can also be a planful undertaking. Children who cannot be reunited with their birth parents need permanent homes, and kin may be explored as permanency resources. This also can include non-related “fictive kin” who have a significant relationship with the child, such as godparents or family friends.
Older youth who have been in foster care for a long time benefit from reestablishing connections with appropriate relatives for emotional or legal permanency. Internet-based search tools can be used to locate extended family members who might be willing to provide foster care to a child.
A variety of child-focused recruitment models, some of which are described in the following section, have developed systematic techniques to find and engage kin.
In New York State, relatives are engaged to care for children through a variety of arrangements: informal care, custody/guardianship, direct placement, kinship foster care, and adoption. These different types of arrangements impact the supports and benefits kinship caregivers may be eligible to receive, and agencies should be prepared to clearly explain this to prospective kinship caregiver families. (See Appendix 4-1: New York State Kinship Chart.)
Relatives caring for children through arrangements other than foster care or KinGAP may be still eligible for a cash grant through Temporary Assistance (TA). Local districts or agencies may also refer to TA as a “child-only” grant, non-parent caregiver grant, or “kinship” grant.
Detailed information about the options for kinship caregivers is available at New York State’s information and referral service, Kinship Navigator (www.nysnavigator.org).
Child-focused recruitment is a promising approach that uses intensive, tailored techniques to create permanency for youth for whom it has traditionally been difficult to find homes. Child-focused recruitment models vary in their implementation approach, but share these components (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012):
The philosophy of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) is “Unadoptable is Unacceptable.” The program’s goal is to increase adoptions from foster care, focusing on children for whom it has been traditionally difficult to find families: older children, groups of siblings, and children with physical or emotional disorders. WWK adoption specialists employ exhaustive, aggressive and accountable child-focused recruitment activities, resulting in older children served by the program being three times more likely to be adopted.
Extreme Recruitment ® also serving children for whom it has been difficult to find homes, has been described by its creators as a race to find permanency for a child in a fraction of the time it would normally take. During 12-20 weeks of intensive recruitment efforts, Extreme Recruiters utilize general, targeted and child-specific recruitment strategies concurrently. Unique to this model, a private investigator is hired to work alongside the recruitment specialist to find relatives through internet tools, court databases, and “old-fashioned detective work.”
30 Days to Family™ operates on the philosophy that all families include members who are willing and able to care for children. 30 Days to Family specialists are expected to be relentless in their search for parents, grandparents, and siblings of children in care. The goal is to place 70% of children served with safe and appropriate relatives within 30 days of entering foster care.
Family Finding is based on the core belief that capable family members can be located and engaged to meet the needs of youth in care. Originally designed for older youth who have spent many years in foster care, Family Finding offers methods for discovering and engaging relatives to meet youths’ needs for relational and/or legal permanency and help them build a “lifetime network.”
Utilizing data in child-focused recruitment efforts maximizes the chances of establishing permanency for children. In addition to collecting and analyzing all available case information to help focus recruitment efforts, child-focused recruitment has another key source: children and youth themselves. A skillfully administered child assessment tool can build a portfolio of data about the child, including relationships important to establishing permanency. Collecting information from children or youth, their families, and the people important to them uncovers connections that are more likely to lead to permanency. Child-focused recruitment models, summarized at the end of this section, have created sophisticated data collection tools and methods to maximize the depth and quality of information collected with the youth.
Case file mining (or “relationship mining”) has been found by many jurisdictions to contribute to successful adoptions and other forms of permanency. Case mining includes an exhaustive review of a child’s existing files to examine factors such as:
Significant people could include child welfare workers, foster parents, attorneys, Court Appointed Special Advocates, teachers, therapists, relatives, mentors, faith-based representatives, and extracurricular activity leaders (Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, 2014). It could even include people like parents of other children in a child’s class where the child went for sleepovers or after-school care providers who knew the child. Any connections the child has had, no matter how briefly mentioned in the case record or by the child, may be potential permanency resources or sources of information about other people who have been important to the child in their past.
The review should leave no stone unturned; even scraps of paper, letters, phone messages, and incomplete information may later lead to a potential adoptive family. A thorough case record review is best completed by a specialist in case mining (or child-focused recruitment) and may take several days.
Case file mining is labor intensive and therefore is primarily used by agencies for children for whom targeted recruitment and less intensive child-specific recruitment have not resulted in a permanency resource. Agencies typically assess their caseloads to determine which children would most benefit from child-specific recruitment strategies. For example, these could include children who have been in foster care for a long period of time (defined by the agency); children who have adoption or Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) as their permanency goal, or children who have been legally freed without an adoptive or permanency resource.
Criteria should be flexible enough to allow the professional team to decide whether a child would benefit from exhaustive case mining or a diligent search for kinship placement, even if he/she does not meet the established guidelines.
Child-specific publicity contributes most to an agency’s general recruitment campaign by building public awareness about the need for foster/adoptive families. Although this approach may also generate an individual parent’s interest in a particular child, it has been shown to be most effective in creating interest in foster parenting. Examples of child-specific publicity:
Heart Gallery of America, Inc., a traveling photographic and audio exhibit created to find forever families for children in foster care. The Heart Gallery of America is a collaborative project of over 120 Heart Galleries across the United States designed to increase the number of adoptive families for children needing homes in our community (www.heartgalleryofamerica.org).
Heart Galleries are used in many areas in New York State as adoption recruitment tools. Professional photographers donate their time to take high-quality photographs of waiting children. These photos are displayed in high-traffic public locations to help put faces to the statistics about children in foster care without permanent families.
Wednesday’s Child, weekly television news segment that features children who are waiting in foster care to be adopted, and shares success stories of families who have adopted from foster care. The segments are hosted by local news anchors and highlight each child’s special personality and interests (http://wednesdayschild.davethomasfoundation.org).
A number of organizations offer photolistings and profiles of waiting children. Nationally, the most well-known is AdoptUSKids (www.adoptuskids.org), a campaign that lists children’s profiles provided by local and/or state agencies. The site has a success rate of 40 percent, even for hard-to-place children with special needs. Utilization of this service is less than optimal, however, with no state listing more than 17 percent of its waiting children (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). In addition to photolisting on OCFS’ Adoption Album, public and private agencies in New York can list their waiting children on the AdoptUSKids site at no cost, giving national exposure to waiting children.
(See Appendix 4-2: Encouraging Your Staff to Use Photolistings in New Ways.)