When people think about “foster/adoptive family recruitment,” general recruitment is often what first comes to mind. Agencies may be most familiar with general recruitment strategies, such as broadcasting public service announcements, buying advertising space on billboards, or staffing a table at the county fair. However, targeted and child-specific recruitment strategies have been demonstrated to be more effective in attracting foster/adoptive families that are qualified and committed to their roles and are better matched with children in need of care.

With targeted recruitment, efforts are concentrated on narrowly defined, smaller groups of people in order to achieve a clearly defined objective. Targeted recruitment “routes the recruitment message directly to the people who are most likely to follow through to become foster or adoptive parents. It focuses on families in targeted communities where homes are needed, as well as on families with specific backgrounds that match the backgrounds and needs of children awaiting homes” (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012).

Another approach, child-specific recruitment, focuses on finding a foster or adoptive home for a particular child. Child-Specific Recruitment of this guide describes the different types of child-specific recruitment in detail.

General recruitment uses methods that are designed to reach as many people as possible with a one-size-fits-all message. Volume is the key factor in this approach. While this approach can be helpful in reaching a wide variety of families, it is most helpful in setting the stage for more targeted recruitment.

Agencies have learned that general recruitment efforts, such as mass marketing campaigns, may draw a large response from the community, but do not yield families likely to complete certification or meet the needs of children in care. Although general recruitment continues to play a role, agencies are encouraged to direct the majority of their available resources toward targeted and child-specific recruitment. In a recent best practices guide, the Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends agencies spend 60% of their efforts on targeted recruitment and 25% on child-specific recruitment (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012). General recruitment efforts would involve only about 15% of an agency’s recruitment strategies, which would represent a significant practice shift for most agencies.

General recruitment casts a wide net in the community, and builds awareness of the ongoing need for foster/adoptive families. General recruitment can also promote positive images of the foster care and adoption systems. Its value lies in helping create a local environment that is receptive to targeted and child-specific recruitment, rather than resulting in new foster/adoptive homes.

Develop low-cost, effective strategies

There are new ways to communicate that can make a small general recruitment budget go farther. For example, rather than using paid advertising, contact the local newspaper about doing a feature story on the need for foster families in your area. The article will usually appear in both the printed newspaper and the publication’s website. Other strategies include:

  • Localize national or regional media campaigns, such as You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Be a Perfect Parent developed by the Ad Council in cooperation with AdoptUSKids and available on http://adoptuskids. adcouncil.org.
  • Use business marquees. Ask churches or businesses, such as gas stations, oil and gas companies, and restaurants, if you can use their billboard for free advertising.
  • Redesign general recruitment printed materials with messages and images that reflect the characteristics of children needing care and the types of families the agency is trying to recruit. Remember not to use information that would identify specific children.

(See Appendix 3-1: General Recruitment.)

Targeted recruitment directs an agency’s resources and efforts where they are mostly likely to yield results. As a data driven technique, it requires agencies to collect data about their communities and current foster/adoptive homes and to have the tools to effectively analyze and interpret that information.

To develop a targeted recruitment strategy, start by analyzing local data to understand current recruitment strengths and gaps (see Driving Recruitment with Data). Assessing the data identifies the problem that needs attention before pre-determining a solution. Data also help to define the work that has been accomplished, identify areas that need more attention, and provide a launch pad for innovative solutions.

The general sequence of steps in analyzing and using local data include:

    STEP 1 Describe the children in foster care.
    Develop a profile of the children in care with the agency. How many are there in total? How many are in each category when broken down by age group, ethnicity, and special needs (sibling groups, healthcare needs, etc.)?

    STEP 2 Describe the homes currently available to them.
    Develop a profile of the foster homes and beds currently available to the agency. What is the total number? How many are in each category when broken down by ages of children accepted in the home, ethnicity, and willingness to care for special needs?

    STEP 3 Make a plan to fill the gaps.
    Identify and reach out to families who can care for the children who are most in need of homes (North Carolina Division of Social Services, 2009).

Promoting the best interests of the child, and finding a family that can best meet his or her distinctive needs, is at the heart of any recruitment effort. For example, based on their local trends of children coming into care, a community may need 30 African-American homes, but only have 10 available. Bridging the gap between needed and available homes is critical to all diligent recruitment efforts.

Develop partnerships with diverse communities

Targeted recruitment relies on engagement with diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities. In some cases, previous interactions with child welfare or other government agencies have engendered a climate of mistrust in communities where agencies are seeking to recruit foster/ adoptive families. If this is the case, the first step in the recruitment process is to build trust. Establishing trust involves building relationships, often one at a time. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is a natural part of the process. When needed, efforts to re-establish credibility in the community can set the stage for agencies to work effectively with diverse families and meet the needs of children in care.

(See Appendix 3-2: Working with African American Adoptive, Foster and Kinship Families and Appendix 3-3: Benefits for Children of Recruiting Latino Foster and Adoptive Families.)

Key Message

Targeted recruitment

If needed, take steps to build credibility and trust between child welfare agencies and the communities in which foster/adoptive families are sought.

Continue the ongoing journey of cultural competence, both within agencies and individuals.

Focus on communities that are known to respond well to the need for foster/adoptive homes.


Build cultural competence

To build cultural awareness and competence, organizations and individuals must assess their attitudes, practices, and policies in relation to the needs and preferences of the targeted community. The National Center for Cultural Competence has developed a guide for conducting an organizational self-assessment (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004). It includes key principles, such as:

  • The purpose of self-assessment is to identify and promote growth among individuals and within organizations that enhances their ability to deliver culturally and linguistically competent services.
  • A fundamental aspect of self-assessment is the meaningful involvement of community stakeholders and key constituency groups, including the forging of alliances and partnerships.
  • The self-assessment process can lead to changes in organizational policies and procedures, staffing patterns, personnel performance measures, outreach and dissemination activities, composition of advisory boards and committees, and in-service training.

(See Appendix 3-4: Moving Toward Cultural Competence: Key Considerations to Explore.)

As agencies develop relationships in target communities, they can work with these contacts to develop a plain-language message that explains the impact of Disproportionate Minority Representation (DMR) on children and youth and describes the need for more foster/adoptive families in affected communities. Trust-building is also encouraged by taking advantage of opportunities to work alongside faith, ethnic and civic organizations. Other measures to try:

  • Translate materials such as recruitment brochures, applications, flyers, and posters into Spanish or other languages of minority communities.
  • Ask foster/adoptive families from minority communities to serve as co-trainers for pre-service training.
  • Conduct recruitment efforts at local ethnic fairs and community events, with the assistance of families of color.
  • Make joint contacts (agency staff and foster parents of color) with prospective foster/adoptive families.
  • Conduct informational meetings in other languages and/or with foster parents of color.
  • Create a recruitment video for families of color.
  • Implement a dedicated telephone line for foster/adoptive family inquiries with a recording in multiple languages.
  • Support efforts of faith, ethnic, and civic organizations by cosponsoring health events, conferences, community-based fairs, etc.

(North Carolina Family Support & Child Welfare Services Statewide Training Partnership, 2008)

The recruitment of foster/adoptive families for Native American children must conform to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Since the passage of ICWA in 1978, many tribes have progressively built their own child welfare systems to handle child abuse and neglect concerns. The ICWA outlines foster/adoptive placement preferences. Specifically, agencies must seek placement with the extended family first and, only if unsuccessful, then with a tribal-certified foster home. Partnerships between non-tribal and tribal child welfare systems can be an important support for tribes in developing their capacity to certify foster homes (National Indian Child Welfare Association, 2015).

(See Appendix 3-5: Recruiting Families for Native American Children.)

Engage current foster/adoptive parents in recruitment

According to the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), states are “underutilizing their most effective recruitment tool − foster parents” (Office of Inspector General, May 2002). In a nationwide survey, child welfare program managers in 20 states said that engaging foster parents in recruitment was one of the most successful methods of recruiting new foster families. This survey found that foster parents recruited by other foster parents are more likely to complete training and become licensed. Despite these findings, only seven states were using foster parents in their recruitment efforts.

Some states pay foster parents a stipend for participating in recruitment activities, such as staffing tables at community events. Others provide a financial reward to foster parents who recruit families that eventually become licensed.

Spotlight on New York State

Finder's fees

In New York State, policy allows local districts and agencies to offer experienced foster parents a “finder’s fee” of $200 for recruiting new foster families. The payment is made to foster parents and local districts are reimbursed by the state after the new foster home is certified and receives the first child (New York State Office of Children and Family Services, 2006).


As part of the effort to develop a pool of diverse, committed foster families, certain communities and subgroups have been found to be highly responsive to recruitment efforts. Two of these are faith-based organizations and the LGBTQ community.

Connect with communities of faith

It is widely recognized that faith communities are valuable partners with child welfare agencies. They often have a mission that is aligned with caring for vulnerable children and families, and are able to contribute essential local knowledge and access to important community leaders and community members. For example, one community organization in Oklahoma found that 60% of inquiries from people who were part of a faith-based community completed the approval process in comparison to the agency’s typical 30% completion rate of traditional inquiries (Oklahoma Department of Human Services, 2011).

The One Church One Child (OCOC) program is designed to address the challenge of recruiting adoptive and foster families in African American communities. The program strives to find one family in every participating African American church to adopt one child. OCOC program activities include: familiarizing church members with the children waiting to be adopted, identifying families that are willing to adopt, and providing support services for adoptive families and children. Download a detailed description of the One Church One Child model.

When first contacting faith-based organizations, agencies should establish what they are hoping communities of faith will help them accomplish. What is the “ask”? You might ask a faith community to:

  • Hold an Adoption Service (a service set aside to raise awareness in the congregation about adoption).
  • Host small group presentations about the foster care/adoption process.
  • Promote joint recruitment activities by agency workers and faith volunteers.
  • Place recruitment posters and brochures in the building.
  • Donate items to children in foster care.
  • Give financial support to children in foster care.

(National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment, 2008)

Spotlight on New York State

Orange County faith-based partnership

In Orange County, New York, the Department of Social Services developed a close partnership with a local church to cultivate foster/adoptive parents. The church asks members of the congregation who are foster/ adoptive parents to recruit others to become foster/adoptive parents. Orientations and MAPP trainings are held on-site at the church by department staff, with church members’ support, to make the process more comfortable and ease the way for members to participate.


Ongoing work with faith communities may result in successful outcomes, such as families being recruited, trained and certified, and foster and adoptive placements (Cipriani, n.d.). In addition, families from the faith community may report a high level of satisfaction with how they are being treated by the partnering agency, which builds the agency’s reputation in the community. Personal connections are essential in developing relationships with faith-based communities. To begin this process:

Articulate intention: Begin with the belief that the involvement of this sector of the community is essential to your effort. Clearly articulate how a partnership with this sector would work, including specific possibilities for faith-based participation.

Gather information: Identify faith-based organizations in your community by making personal connections and establishing relationships. Conduct a search: Begin your search with people you know; ask them whether they know of faith-based communities or leaders who might be interested in forming a partnership addressing the issues you want help with.

Initiate contact: Personal outreach is vital in initiating and maintaining relationships with faith-based organizations. When possible, begin with already-established relationships and contacts within the target community; relying on mutual acquaintances can make establishing new relationships easier. Consider asking a leader within the targeted faith-based community to sponsor a special gathering of his or her peers for you (Burke, 2011).

Key Message

Faith-based communities

Build relationships with faith communities through personal connections.

Establish the connection between the agency’s work and the mission of the faith community.

Clearly articulate the agency’s “ask” of the faith community.


Welcome and engage the LGBTQ community

Reaching out to the LGBTQ community may be beneficial to ongoing recruitment efforts.


    Definitions

    LGBTQ is an abbreviation commonly used to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals.
    Sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to persons of the same or different gender.
    Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of self as male, female, no gender, or another gender.
    Gender expression refers to the manner in which a person expresses his or her gender through clothing, appearance, behavior, speech, etc. A person’s gender expression may vary from the norms traditionally associated with his or her assigned sex at birth. Gender expression is a separate concept from sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, a male may exhibit feminine qualities, but identify as a heterosexual male.
    Lesbian refers to a female who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to other females.
    Gay refers to a person who is emotionally, romantically, and sexually attracted to people of the same gender identity. Sometimes, it may be used to refer to gay men and boys only. It is preferred over the term “homosexual.”
    Bisexual refers to a person who is attracted to, and may form sexual and romantic relationships with, males and females.
    Transgender may be used as an umbrella term to include all persons whose gender identity or gender expression does not match society’s expectations of how an individual of that gender should behave in relation to his or her gender. For purposes of protection from discrimination and harassment, transgender refers to both self-identified transgender individuals and individuals perceived as transgender. Transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning.
    Questioning refers to a person, often an adolescent, who is exploring or questioning issues of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in his or her life. Some questioning people will ultimately identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual.

Source: OCFS Informational Letter 09-OCFS-INF-06: “Promoting a safe and respectful environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning children and youth in out-of-home placement.”


Many LGBTQ individuals express interest in adopting and/or fostering as a way to build their families. They often bring a set of strengths to foster care and adoption due to their own experiences (including an understanding of how it feels to be “different”) and an ability to empathize with children struggling with peer relationships and identity issues.

Over 25 years of research on measures of self-esteem, adjustment, and qualities of social relationships shows that the children of LGBTQ parents have been found to grow up as successfully as children of heterosexual parents (Patterson, 2009). It has been noted that “without preconceived notions of what constitutes family, many LGBTQ adults are receptive to fostering or adopting older children, sibling groups, and children with special needs” (National Resource Center for Adoption, n.d.).

A recent study found that same-sex couples are three times more likely than their different-sex counterparts to be raising an adopted or foster child. Married same-sex couples are five times more likely to be raising these children when compared to married different-sex couples (Gates, 2015).

In addition, the LGBTQ community offers a diversity of homes in terms of socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, and racial groups. This supports agencies’ efforts to have a pool of foster/adoptive homes that are of the same race and/or ethnicity and are located in the same geographic area as children being placed.

By reaching out to prospective parents who are LGBTQ, agencies can expand their pool of foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Although an agency may already be working with many LGBTQ parents, an ongoing assessment of the agency’s capacity and readiness to recruit LGBTQ parents is helpful. Building agency capacity to send welcoming messages to LGBTQ individuals may be the first step in tapping into this community. Building community connections and relationships with LGBTQ ally organizations also supports the recruitment process and shows that efforts are being made to make inroads in the community of interest.

(See Appendix 3-6: Frequently Asked Questions from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Prospective Foster and Adoptive Parents and Appendix 3-7: Permanency Planning Today.)

Key Message

Engaging the LGBTQ community

LGBTQ individuals may be a resource for child welfare agencies seeking to expand their pool of foster/adoptive parents.

Sending welcoming messages to LGBTQ individuals is an important first step.


Make your message LGBTQ friendly

Review agency forms, interview protocols, and publications to make sure they are inclusive and affirming for LGBTQ parents. Avoid using expressions that reflect any assumptions that all prospective parents fall into particular groups. Even seemingly innocuous questions can send a message that prospective LGBTQ parents are not welcome. For example:

  • In conversations with applicants about their relationships and/ or marital status, avoid using gender-specific terms such as “husband” and “wife” and instead use terms such as “spouse” or “partner.”
  • Instead of using the words “husband” and “wife” on forms, use more neutral words such as “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” or “Applicant 1” and “Applicant 2.”

Make sure that the photos and images used in recruitment materials and publications reflect the diversity of prospective families. Include same-sex couples and single parents in photography and graphic art. If prospective LGBTQ families don’t see families like themselves in any of the agency’s images, they may find it more difficult to trust the agency to consider their applications fairly.

(See Appendix 3-8: Recruiting and Retaining LBGT Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Families: Sending a Welcoming Message.)

  • A Guide to Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. Booklet published by the National Indian Child Welfare Association provides in-depth answers to frequently asked questions about ICWA, designed to help individuals better understand ICWA’s requirements, including preventing unlawful removals to foster care and outlining placement preferences that put family first. (http://issuu.com/nicwa/docs/2015guide_to_icwa_compliance)
  • Finding Common Ground: A Guide for Child Welfare Agencies Working with Communities of Faith. Comprehensive resource which shares the art and science of building effective partnerships with communities of faith for the purpose of recruiting and supporting foster and adoptive families for children in out-of-home care. (http://www.adoptuskids.org/_assets/files/NRCRRFAP/resources/finding-common-ground.pdf)
  • Strategies for Recruiting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Families. A thorough examination of the value of recruiting LGBTQ families, plus proven strategies for success in this area. Adapted from material by Dr. Gerald P. Mallon, the Executive Director of the National Center for Child Welfare Excellence at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York City. (http://www.nrcdr.org/_assets/files/strategies-for-recruiting-LGBT-foster-adoptive-kinship-families.pdf)
  • Media Toolkit for Child Welfare Leaders. Tips and strategies child welfare leaders can use to work effectively with the media and to increase the impact and reach of the National Adoption Recruitment Campaign and Response Initiative, as a way to help raise awareness about adoption, both during National Adoption Month and throughout the rest of the year. (http://www.nrcdr.org/_assets/files/AUSK/NRCDR/media-toolkit-for-child-welfare-leaders.pdf)
  • AdoptUSKids Campaign Toolkit. This website lets you quickly and easily access the media materials that can be localized for your community. TV, radio, print, and outdoor materials are all available for localization and use at the local level. (http://adoptuskids.adcouncil.org/)
  • LGBT Issues and Child Welfare. Extensive resources related to working with LGBTQ adults and youth from the National Center for Permanency and Family Connections. (http://www.nrcpfc.org/is/lgbtq-issues-and-child-welfare.html)
  • Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2004). Building Culturally & Linguistically Competent Services. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2012). Building Successful Resource Families Practice Guide: A Guide for Public Agencies. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
  • Burke, J. (2011). Working Effectively With Faith-Based Organizations. Retrieved from Virginia Department of Social Services: http://www.dss.virginia.gov/
  • Cipriani, M. H. (n.d.). Finding Common Ground: A Guide for Child Welfare Agencies Working with Communities of Faith. Linthicum, MD: AdoptUSKids.
  • Gates, G. (2015). Demographics of married and unmarried same-sex couples: analyses of the 2013 American Community Survey. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.
  • National Indian Child Welfare Association. (2015). Guide to ICWA Compliance. Retrieved from NICWA: http://issuu.com/nicwa/docs/2015guide_to_icwa_compliance
  • National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment. (n.d.). Strategies for recruiting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender foster, adoptive, and kinship families. Linthicum, MD: AdoptUsKids.
  • National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment. (2008). Promising Practices in Resource Parent Recruitment. PowerPoint presentation at Diligent Recruitment Grantee Presentations, Year One. Baltimore, MD: National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment.
  • New York State Office of Children and Family Services. (2006). Standards of Payment for Foster Care of Children Program Manual. Rensselaer, NY: OCFS.
  • North Carolina Division of Social Services. (2009). Treat Them Like Gold: Best Practice Guide to Partnering with Resource Families. Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina DSS.
  • North Carolina Family Support & Child Welfare Services Statewide Training Partnership. (2008). To Learn More about Resource Family Recruitment & Retention, Training Matters, July 2008.
  • Office of Inspector General. (May 2002). Recruiting Foster Parents. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Oklahoma Department of Human Services. (2011). Bridge to the Future. PowerPoint presentation at Diligent Recruitment Grantee Presentations, Year Two. Baltimore, MD: National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment.
  • Patterson, C. (2009, November). Children of lesbian and gay parents: Psychology, law, and policy. American Psychologist, 64(8), 727-36.