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Use an expansive legal definition of kin

Recommendation

Being placed in kinship care can often be a more stable placement for youth when compared to placement in a group home or foster home with other unrelated youth. By staying in a familiar setting, youth will experience fewer disruptions and will be able to better maintain their existing relationships. Using an expansive legal definition of kin will allow staff to find more placement options for youth more quickly, and can mean more adults qualify to be emergency placements. 

Even if a connection cannot serve as a placement, youth need as many supportive adults around them as possible. Maintaining an expansive legal definition of kin will allow you to create a broader support system for youth.

Accept photos to resolve minor pending inspection items

Recommendation

Safety inspections often identify minor items that need to be fixed before passing inspection, such as repairing a window or purchasing a newer crib. These minor items need to be validated by an inspector and require a return visit. 

Allowing foster families to send photos to confirm the resolution of minor pending items will prevent delays in the licensing process.

Align checklists to statutes

Recommendation

By aligning licensing checklist items to specific statutes, you can help decision-makers understand the source of these legal requirements. This ensures that decision-makers clearly understand the source of a problem, so they can identify the most effective solution. For example, a landline telephone requirement creates a challenge for many families as most people are now in mobile-only households. By highlighting the statute behind this requirement, a decision-maker can better consider whether it is enough to change the requirement, or if the policy behind the requirement needs to be updated and modernized as well.

Allow youth to explore and select programs available to them

Recommendation

Many youth do not know what programs are available to them. Case workers are often managing so many cases that they don’t always have time to explain every available program. This means that youth may miss out on opportunities to prepare for independence. 

Instead of requiring case workers to explain each program directly, make it possible for older youth to look through a list of available programming and choose the topics most relevant to them.

Ask about connections repeatedly over time

Recommendation

The beginning of foster care is a difficult and emotional time for children and their families. Both children and adults may be too stressed or afraid to share a complete list of connections during an initial meeting. 

Reduce the risk that children will permanently lose important connections by checking in regularly about their networks. Different timing and questions often uncover more connections. And when children are in foster care for a while, they may also develop new relationships with people who can provide vital support. 

Invite youth and the known adults in their lives — like parents, family, other kin, and even foster parents — multiple times to share a list of supportive connections.

Ask youth about supportive adults

Recommendation

Youth are often placed in general foster care or in group homes when they have placement options with adults they already know and trust.

Ask youth, both at initial removal and at regular intervals afterwards, about the supportive adults in their lives. Even young children may be able to tell you about the important people in their lives.

Ask family members for more family members

Recommendation

When you connect with a youth’s kin, make it a point to always ask them if they know of other potential kin, whether they may be current connections to the child or family members that they haven’t yet met.

Children can’t have too many adults who care about them. Most youth enter foster care with more connections than they leave with. Making sure to ask kin you know about to help identify additional kin, especially if children are too young to share on their own, can create a broader supportive network.

Complete background check forms at orientation

Recommendation

The process and timeframe for out-of-state abuse and neglect registry checks — commonly called Adam Walsh checks — vary quite a bit from state to state. To get foster families approved faster, start out-of-state background checks early.

Be gentle when interacting with kin for the first time

Recommendation

Kinship connections may be permanently lost if an initial communication feels too overwhelming and demanding. Some connections may be learning they have a family member for the first time while simultaneously being asked to serve as a placement. Additionally, staff may feel that they need to move immediately to the next kin connection if an initial connection cannot serve as a placement. 

However, engaging newfound kinship connections with gentler techniques from the start can help prevent losing important connections.

Check in frequently on first placements

Recommendation

No matter how many hours of training they've had, it's a different experience once a child is placed in your home. This is particularly the case for kinship caregivers who may have had no notice their life was about to change. A little extra support during this transition period can go a long way towards making a placement successful and retaining foster homes for the long term.

Check in with your resource families on a regular basis

Recommendation

There is so much to do and there are so many emergencies to handle that it can be easy to assume that no news is good news in the case of your existing resource families, but this is not alway the case. Regular check-ins can surface issues of all sizes proactively, so you have enough time to fix individual or systemic issues before they cause you to lose families altogether.

Connecting Youth to Their Supportive Adults

Topic

Youth in foster care often leave with fewer connections than they entered care with. Children can't be expected to maintain these relationships by themselves—they can't drive, may not have a phone while in care, and may not even have contact information. It should be the responsibility of every child welfare system to maintain and nurture all of a child's supportive relationships throughout their time in care.

Create life books for youth in care

Recommendation

A life book captures a child's key milestones and relationshps, and it should follow them throughout (and after) their time in care.

Designate some homes specifically for emergency placements

Recommendation

Some foster homes are particularly well-suited to supporting emergency placement for short stays, which can give overtaxed placement desks enough time to find kinship placements or a well-matched general licensed family.

Use digital marketing campaigns for foster family recruitment

Recommendation

We use online marketing to sell shoes and houses, but very few child welfare systems are taking advantage of this avenue for recruiting new foster homes. Unlike radio ads or billboards that must appeal to a wide audience, online ads can be highly customized to focus on caregivers who meet the certain characteristics your foster children most need, such as caregivers who speak particular languages or work in a specific profession. 

Leveraging targeted digital marketing campaigns, alongside your other recruitment methods, can be more successful at finding these families than more generic campaigns.

Distinguish important mail for foster families

Recommendation

Foster families report feeling inundated with mail, from policies and forms and to announcements and new trainings. This mail may stack up in a pile, risking that time-sensitive mail goes unopened. 

Put a sticker or draw a colored circle on important mail sent to foster parents, to clearly identify which envelopes are critical to open and which can be set aside.

Don’t close inquiries

Recommendation

Just because a family is not ready to foster today does not mean that they couldn’t be a strong placement option in the future. New data shows that it can take some families years between when they first take an interest in fostering and when they start an application. When systems delete or close out inquiries to meet short-term metrics like conversion rates, they also potentially lose out on a number of families who would have completed applications in the future. 

Keep all your potential foster family inquiries open and find ways to keep families engaged with newsletters, email campaigns, and the occasional personal check-in. You can also keep interested families engaged by highlighting other ways for them to support foster youth, such as participating in a donation drive or volunteering at an event.

Don’t license homes that are only interested in adopting infants

Recommendation

At a glance, many states have literally hundreds of open foster home beds that are not open at all, because they are only willing to accept legally-free infants. These homes require resources to license and maintain, although they are highly unlikely to ever receive a call. 

Focus your scarce resources on foster families who can support reunification goals and not on licensing families who are only willing to take legally-free infants.

Accept background check electronically

Recommendation

To speed up the process and reduce application costs, offer ways for people to submit background check requests electronically. Requests through physical mail lead to longer wait times and more opportunity for clerical mistakes.

Email license renewal requirements

Recommendation

Foster families are often overwhelmed with responsibilities and let licensing renewal requirements like training and paperwork fall by the wayside. Mailed reminders can be easily lost in the volume of other mailings received from a foster care agency (especially if your agency does not distinguish important mail). Most systems do not have an electronic portal for families to check their renewal status on their own, leaving families dependent on manual communications. 

Send an email to foster families two to three months before their license expires, outlining the steps required for their renewal.

Emergency Placements

Topic

While some entries in foster care are planned in advance, many others are sudden, perhaps in the middle of the night or on a weekend. Placement desks are under great duress to find family or a matching foster home immediately, even in the face of dwindling resources and homes. Worse, when unsuitable placements are made under duress, they might work out for days or weeks, but eventually disrupt and start the emergency all over again.

Emergency shelter homes

Recommendation

When used strategically, short-term emergency homes for children who are new to foster care can provide the time (hours or days) necessary to find and resource kinship caregivers, while tackling basics like clothing, hygiene, medical exams, and other assessments. As long as these placements are always brief, and explicitly used in support of ultimately placing that child in the best possible placement as soon as posible, emergency homes can be a valuable tool.

Empower licensing workers to approve relative licensing exceptions

Recommendation

When the licensing workers who interact with and really know a family get to make decisions about how to approve or mitigaten non-safety exceptions for relatives, everyone benefits. A supervisor or area administrator who has never met a family is often not the best person to make a judgement call, and that can lead to denials that lack nuance — which ultimately means fewer kids in kinship care. Localized decision making means faster and higher licensing rates for relatives.

Establish a dedicated family-finding team

Recommendation

Effective family-finding requires a specialized skill set, from being savvy with social media to engaging newfound kin without scaring them. Not every case worker has these skills, and most already have demanding workloads. 

A small team dedicated to finding family will help:

  • Free up case workers for other tasks
  • Test out promising new strategies and standardize effective practices 
  • Save money on subscription-based family-finding tools

Form a dedicated family-finding team for your child welfare system, instead of relying on individual case workers to find kin for the children on their caseload.

Extended Foster Care

Topic

The end of foster care can be a difficult and confusing time for youth. However, there are several important ways that staff can better prepare and support youth during this time.

Provide financial bonuses to foster families for recruitment referrals

Recommendation

Providing financial bonuses to current foster families who recruit more families is an additional way to financially support current families. This also incentivizes successful recruitment activities.

Find alternatives to physical mail for sharing documents with youth

Recommendation

Many foster youth do not have reliable physical addresses, making it difficult for them to receive physical mail. In a multi-state discovery sprint with older foster youth, Think of Us found as many as 30% of mailed calendars were returned to sender. This means that as many as 30% of youth never learn about programs being offered.

Switching from physical mail to using online calendars, email, and text messages to share information about programming and other materials will help ensure that youth do not miss important information.

Use social media to find missing children

Recommendation

It's scary when youth run away or go missing while in care. Social media can be an effective way to find and communicate with AWOL youth.

Finding kin

Topic

Children in care do better when they’re placed with family members or other adults they know and trust. But identifying and connecting with extended family members can be a challenge for foster care programs.

Child welfare systems who have adopted the practices listed on this page are able to place children with relatives more than 80% of the time.

Track adoption of these practices on the progress dashboard.

Describe foster parent licensing requirements with flexible wording

Recommendation

Child welfare systems can box themselves into a corner by being overly specific when describing foster parent licensing requirements. Flexible language around certain requirements means more caregivers, especially kin caregivers, can get licensed.

Focus recruitment on fostering, not adoption

Recommendation

Many child welfare systems license hundreds of families that are only interested in adopting infants. These homes are not always needed and can take up valuable staff time and financial resources to license and maintain. 

By updating your recruitment materials, messaging, and inquiry forms, you can highlight the real needs of your child welfare agency: foster families who will prioritize helping to reunify and heal a child’s family of origin or provide permanency for older youth and sibling groups. Case workers should have multiple conversations about potential families’ expectations and work to clarify that fostering is not the right choice for a family that is only looking to adopt an infant.

Encourage foster family support groups on social media

Recommendation

Support groups exist on social media for every topic you can think of, including foster care. Families in your system should have access to a social media based support group.

Foster Parent Compensation

Topic

There are a variety of ways to compensate resource families beyond the standard room and board rate (which itself can vary based on different factors), including special salaried foster parent programs and ad hoc additional employment opportunities.

Foster Parent Licensing

Topic

Foster parent licensing can be a lengthy, and at times inefficient, process. Delays in licensing can mean losing homes in a time when placement options are already severely limited.

Give cash or prepaid cards for youth stipends

Recommendation

Older youth often rely on their stipends to cover food and basic necessities. Giving cash or prepaid cards, instead of store-specific gift cards, is more useful and will go farther for youth purchasing groceries and other necessities. 

In a multi-state discovery sprint with older foster youth, Think of Us found that when youth received Target gift cards, they often engaged in a complicated workaround: they purchased miscellaneous Target items, then returned them in batches to receive cash refunds in increments of $10. They then used that cash to buy food at other stores.

Give families a dedicated licensor

Recommendation

Each part of the licensing process is often managed by different case workers. This has several negative effects, such as lengthening the process, increasing the likelihood of errors, and leaving each case worker with different pieces of information. 

By dedicating a single case worker to the entire licensing process, you can increase high-touch engagement. The case worker will be able to get a more holistic and nuanced view of the family. It also increases family satisfaction, as they don’t get confused by multiple case workers.

Help relative placements access financial assistance

Recommendation

Sometimes, the biggest barrier to getting kinship families licensed is not safety concerns but financial requirements. Financial issues may be the only reason a relative placement doesn’t qualify. However, there are various programs that can provide assistance to these families and help them to get licensed. 

Help relative placements access other financial assistance to meet the minimum licensing requirement. Better yet, you can waive financial requirements entirely for relative placements, recognizing that poverty should not keep families apart.

Make it easy for families to take high-value training for renewals

Recommendation

Current foster families are often overwhelmed with day to day responsibilities and may put off their training requirements until their renewal date is looming. In some systems, this means the only training available to them is reading books or watching movies, which does not maximally prepare caregivers for the needs of foster youth.

Offer a curriculum of the highest-value trainings, with childcare and meals taken care of, to make completing training hours prior to renewal both simple for families and high-value for the agency.

Hire current foster parents to help train new foster parents

Recommendation

Current foster parents who do not work for your Department can provide additional empathy and perspectives that can help new families decide to sign up, or decide to expand their training or placement preferences. Hiring current foster parents to assist as co-trainers in new or continuing trainings (or for orientations or early home visits) may also help retain the foster parents who are hired.

Hire youth with lived experience for roles at your agency

Recommendation

Diverse teams can identify and eliminate bias. Having youth with lived experience on your team can bring and keep the perspective of foster youth to the forefront of everyday tasks. It also provides meaningful employment opportunities for youth aging out of care in your system. 

Child welfare systems are seeing success hiring youth with lived experience as foster parent trainers, clerical support, and foster parent recruiters.

Identify natural supports for caregivers

Recommendation

Caregivers, whether kinship caregivers or general resource families, need support too, and they won't be able to get 100 percent of that support from your agency. Identifying natural supports early on can help activate those supports when they're needed.

Include pending families in placement searches

Recommendation

Foster children often have to move schools or live with strangers who do not share their language or culture. Sometimes, a matching family is available for a child who otherwise does not have a strong match, but the placement team cannot see that family because they have not yet completed the application process. 

Include families who have applied but not yet completed their license in your placement searches. When a child otherwise has no strong match, prioritize licensing a matching pending family.

Include placement and recruitment teams in regular case planning meetings

Recommendation

Recruitment teams can do their best work if they understand the current needs and characteristics of youth in care. Without this context, they may recruit families who do not best match the needs of youth in care. Including recruitment and placement workers in all of your routine planning meetings can help ensure that recruiters focus on the most needed families.

Include recruiters in follow-up activities

Recommendation

While separating duties can make your agency feel more efficient, being passed between staff members can be confusing and unpleasant for potential foster families, even causing them to back out of the process. Warm hand-offs and opportunities to stay connected with staff members with whom they have developed relationships can help keep potential foster families engaged and more likely to continue through the  licensing process. 

Instead of passing off a potential foster family from a recruiter to a licensor, create more opportunities for warm hand-offs and for recruiting team members to continue seeing and interacting with their families.

Increase foster family retention with renewal check-ins

Recommendation

Use renewal as an opportunity to touch base with families about their current needs and goals. Families that are feeling overwhelmed might benefit from respite or taking lower-need children for a time, while families that are gaining experience may be ready to take on higher-need placement. 

With foster homes in such high demand, it can be all too easy to keep making placements in a home until the family burns out and quits. Using renewal as an opportunity to check-in helps retain families longer. Additionally, it may not be obvious when a family is ready to take on more responsibility and train for higher-need placement. Renewal offers a natural opportunity for these conversations.

Inquiry Management

Topic

Responding to and tracking inquiries from potential foster families can be time consuming, but represents a key moment for engagement and successful recruitment.

Keep a schedule of when youth will age out

Recommendation

Staff often do not have an easy way to track which of their youth are nearing the date that they will age out. This makes it difficult to plan and communicate effectively. 

Keep a chronological list of the youth you serve, sorted by their anticipated final day, so that their needs can be met before they exit care.

Make keeping in touch with kin a formal foster family responsibility

Recommendation

Foster parents may not be aware of their foster child’s previous connections. Set the expectation with potential and current foster parents that part of their formal responsibility is to help the youth in their care keep in touch with the supportive connections in their lives. 

Foster parents may be reluctant to maintain a child’s previous connections, if they think doing so will harm their chances for adoption. However, even if the child is adopted, they deserve to have a strong support network. Making this a formal responsibility of foster parents can help keep a youth’s connections intact throughout their time in care.

License homes while social distancing

Recommendation

Some child welfare systems have paused licensing for some or all new families in order to limit in-person contact, even though federal regulations do not require the licensing process to be conducted in person. Delays caused by stopping licensing can mean losing homes, especially relative placements, in a time when placement options are already severely limited. 

Licensing new foster homes with minimal physical contact by conducting everything by email, phone, and video (except for fingerprinting and a single in-person safety walkthrough) can limit any delays and prevent the loss of placement options.

License Renewal

Topic

License renewal can be a time-consuming process for both staff and families, but a successful license renewal process can ensure better retention and increased family satisfaction.

License undocumented family members

Recommendation

It's not a federal requirement for kinship caregivers to be in the country legally in order to get licensed — this is a pervasive myth. These caregivers should also be eligible for licensing and financial support.

Make a genogram

Recommendation

Keeping track of a youth’s connections can get complicated, and a genogram offers a helpful, visual solution. By organizing existing contacts using a genogram, you can see key relationships easily and start identifying possible additions.

Maximize use of relative licensing exceptions

Recommendation

Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, which governs foster care maintenance payments and licensing, specifically says that states can make exceptions to any "non-safety" licensing requirements for relatives. Most states have artificially limited their flexibility around exceptions — but you can fix this by following in the footsteps of states that have maximum flexibility.

Measure retention carefully

Recommendation

The percentage of families that your system retains as resource parents can be a misleading number if not tracked carefully. There are plenty of good, or at least neutral, reasons for a family closing its beds, such as adopting their current placement, moving out of state, or perhaps reaching a certain age. There are also some families for whom fostering is just not a good fit, and it's best for them and for children in care that they part ways with your agency. Retention goals should focus on families willing and able to meet the needs of children in care, but who drop out due to frustration or burnout—and this starts by being able to measure and differentiate how you're performing with those families.

Normalize making licensing exceptions for relatives

Recommendation

Exceptions to licensing requirements for relatives don't have to be entirely separate forms or processes. Many systems incorporate this mitigation and decision making within the standard process, such as the home study template. In systems that allow relative nonsafety exceptions, these exceptions happen more often than not — so instead of treating it as an exceptional circumstance, treat it as a routine one.

Offer online foster parent training

Recommendation

Many agencies have paused their resource family training and licensing efforts during the pandemic. However, the need for safe placement options for foster children can’t afford to wait. 

By offering online training and online or telephone recruitment and orientation events, you can continue to license families while limiting in-person contact.

Designate certain families to be on call after hours

Recommendation

There's a difference between the number of available beds the placement desk can see in its database, and the number of placements who answer the phone — especially during off-hours. Having specific "shifts" during which current foster families know they might receive an emergency placement call can help ensure every child has options at every hour.

Out of State Child Abuse and Neglect Checks

Topic

Child welfare programs are required to check the child abuse and neglect registry in each state where a potential foster parent lived during the past 5 years. This is called the “Adam Walsh check” after the 2006 act that requires it. Programs must do this for anyone else in the home who’s 18 years or older.

Track adoption of these practices on the progress dashboard.

Pay for Respite

Recommendation

Respite care gives foster parents a break, whether for date night or a trip out of state where a child is not allowed to tag along. Paying for respite, whether by providing funds or a respite provider, helps foster parents to avoid burnout and potentially support youth with higher levels of need.

Pay Kinship Caregivers Until They Get Licensed

Recommendation

Kinship caregivers are not eligible for receiving foster care stipends until they complete a licensing process. In most states, the can take 100s of days; and many states allow for kinship caregivers to remain unlicensed (unpaid) indefinitely. This lack of financial support can severely negatively impact the ability for a kinship caregiver to provide a stable placement.

Pay to Keep Homes Open

Recommendation

When children experience a disruption, such as running away or requiring an inpatient treatment, their foster home bed is generally "closed." Paying the home to not only keep their bed open, but remain involved (e.g., visiting the hospital daily) can reduce placement disruption.

Placement Stability Bonuses

Recommendation

Placement stability is good for youth. Providing financial bonuses to some families for maintaining placement stability incentives this.

Make a plan to keep youth connected to their supportive adults

Recommendation

Most youth enter foster care with more connections than they leave with. Often, if a connection cannot serve as a placement resource, child welfare systems will not actively work to maintain that connection. 

However, supportive connections are critical to a youth’s well-being. When a formal plan is in place to maintain connections, youth will have more people that they can count on for emotional support, rides, tutoring, advice, and everyday connections. test

Professional (Salaried) Foster Parents

Recommendation

Many children in institutions could be thriving in a dedicated family setting. Requirements that foster parents have a separate source of income and employment means that willing and experienced homes cannot provide the full-time care that some children need. Professional, or salaried, foster parents are an emerging answer to this challenge.

Protect youth privacy on social media

Recommendation

Foster parents may mean well when posting on social media, but seemingly innocent stories and photos can easily violate the privacy of foster youth in their home. This can be an especially tricky area to navigate for kinship caregivers.

Provide childcare at resource family events and trainings

Recommendation

Childcare can be an insurmountable barrier to adults completing necessary licensing steps or to attending regular training and/or recognition events. You can fix this by providing childcare on-site.

Provide clerical support for licensing workers

Recommendation

Case workers spend a significant amount of time on licensing paperwork, which is time they could otherwise spend directly with families or on evaluations. By providing clerical support for case workers, you can reduce the amount of paperwork that case workers are responsible for.

Provide More Ways for Foster Parents to Earn Money

Recommendation

Additional financial opportunities, even if modest, can help foster parents feel appreciated and recognize their time and effort fairly.

Provide safety inspection checklists ahead of time

Recommendation

Some families do not pass the inspection on the first try because they are missing one or more safety items that they didn’t know they needed to have (like a first aid kit or rope ladder). This can cause delays in the licensing process, as the inspector must go back a second time. 

Providing a safety inspection checklist ahead of time will allow families to prepare for specific requirements and thereby prevent delays in the licensing process.

Provide safety inspection items for families in need

Recommendation

Whether due to time, money or transportation constraints, some families cannot acquire needed safety inspection items (such as rope ladders or oven locks). By providing these items to families in need, you can ensure that anyone who needs safety items can get them.

Provide training for supportive adults

Recommendation

Adults who care about children in care want to be helpful, but they may not know how. Offering training and supports to supportive adults (who do not have placement) can help them be a more active and supportive presence in the lives of our children.

Provide transportation to visits with supportive adults

Recommendation

Making a plan to keep youth connected with their entire network of supportive adults is critical, but generally requires reliable transportation to work. Case workers and resource parents can sometimes provide this transportation, but your system should make sure a robust array of transportation options are available for youth.

Find opportunities to recognize foster families

Recommendation

Every child welfare system needs more ways to support and retain their best foster families. Find opportunities to formally recognize your current foster families, through awards, events, or gifts. These recognition opportunities create positive word of mouth from current foster families that attract more families to sign up to foster.

Recruit relative caregivers to become general caregivers

Recommendation

Every child welfare system is looking for more families. Kinship caregivers are often already full licensed (or have only minor steps remaining to become fully licensed), are familiar with the system, and may have fewer negative preconceived notions about foster children. Not every relative caregiver may be a good match for or even interested in taking in children who they do not know. But even converting a small percentage of relative caregivers to general licensed homes can make a big difference in the available pool of placement options. 

Focus some recruitment efforts on existing relative caregivers. Make sure case workers discuss the idea of becoming a general licensed home with relative caregivers at regular points, particularly at permanency milestones like a return home. Your system should have a clear, documented path for “converting” from a relative caregiver to a general licensed home without having to start from scratch.

Recruitment

Topic

Foster family recruitment is vital to ensuring a wide pool of placement options for youth in care. Innovative programs are finding a variety of creative ways to successfully recruit new foster families that meet the needs of children in care.

Use a red team to prevent placements in group homes

Recommendation

Fewer youth will enter group homes if there is a team dedicated to finding alternative placements. A red team should be a diverse group of agency staff, who conduct kin research, construct a genogram, and ask youth directly about possible placements. The team should be empowered to rapidly brainstorm, make decisions, and pursue alternatives to group home placements.

Reflect your community in recruitment materials

Recommendation

People often look for themselves in marketing materials. Diverse representation helps more people see themselves as potential and valuable resource caregivers. 

Replace generic recruitment materials and photos with thoughtful and inclusive materials that reflect real community members. Images of foster families should include single parents, LGBTQ+ families, people of color, and people with a variety of abilities.

Relative Licensing Exceptions

Topic

Federal law allows child welfare systems to make exceptions for relatives to any foster parent licensing requirement that's not a safety issue. Most systems are not taking advantage of this flexibility, and should. States currently using this flexibility are licensing 100% of their relative caregivers within 60 days.

Set reminders to stay in touch with families who submit inquiries

Recommendation

By finding ways to stay connected with families who have shown an interest in becoming foster parents, you can help some become licensed caregivers, while still getting meaningful support from others through donation drives, CASA volunteering, or mentoring. 

Setting reminders is a simple way to make sure that you stay in touch with potential foster families, and that they feel appreciated.

Require private agency capacity for emergency placements

Recommendation

Systems that contract beds from private agencies can ensure some emergency capacity by requiring some percentage of emergency beds in these contracts.

Respond quickly to inquiries with more information

Recommendation

Filling out a form indicating interest in becoming a foster parent is a big step. When someone fills out an inquiry form, they might be ready to go right away, or they might need time and more information to think about making such a significant commitment. If too much time passes before they get a response, a potential caregiver may become discouraged, second guess themselves, or change their mind. 

Set a required, short response time for following up with potential foster family inquiries. Responding quickly with more information makes you seem responsive and supportive to new families, gives primed applicants a way to get started and make a more informed choice about whether fostering is right for them, and can help weed out poor fits (e.g. families only looking to adopt infants). By providing information about additional ways to support foster youth, you can also help more hesitant families get and stay engaged.

Retention

Topic

Most child welfare systems are struggling to retain experienced foster parents who are increasingly exiting due to burnout or frustration.

Send appointment reminders

Recommendation

Home study and inspection appointments are often scheduled for families without their input and with confirmation. As a result, families can miss critical appointments which delays the licensing process and creates unnecessary frustration. 

Sending appointment reminders to families can help prevent these issues.

Require senior staff sign-off for non-relative placements

Recommendation

Case workers don’t want to wake a director in the middle of the night to sign-off on a non-relative placement. Requiring this level of sign-off incentivizes early family finding and may prevent placements in group homes.

Social Media

Topic

Social media has many roles in child welfare, from the targeted recruitment of new foster parents to finding teens who have run away from care. Having the right policies in place can help your department unlock its many benefits while protecting privacy.

Use social media for general foster family recruitment efforts

Recommendation

Create and regularly update social media presences for your agency, so community members can learn more about foster parenting and how to support the foster youth in their community. Radio ads, billboards, television commercials, and other offline media can help spread awareness of the need for more foster families, but a regular cadence of social media posts can raise awareness with even more community members.

Use social media for targeted foster family recruitment

Recommendation

Create and regularly update social media presences for your agency, so community members can learn more about foster parenting and how to support the foster youth in their community. Radio ads, billboards, television commercials, and other offline media can help spread awareness of the need for more foster families, but a regular cadence of social media posts can raise awareness with even more community members.

Social Media Policy and Practice Guidance

Recommendation

The best social media policies in child welfare enable staff to take advantage of its many benefits while protecting the privacy of children, families, and employees.

Summer Camp Stipends

Recommendation

Foster youth may miss out on the childhood experience of summer camp because their foster parents can't afford it. While some camps specialize in foster youth and/or in bringing separated foster siblings together, kids in care deserve to attend camp with their peers, too.

Make sure supportive adults have a robust presence at planning meetings

Recommendation

Most youth leave foster care with fewer connections than they entered with. However, most supportive adults want to be more involved in supporting the youth in their lives. Keeping these adults engaged and involved in case planning can help keep youth from exiting care without connections. Invite at least three times as many supportive adults as paid staff members to planning meetings to maximize the benefits of this support network.

Talk with families as soon as possible when they submit an inquiry

Recommendation

Becoming a foster parent is a big step, and many potential foster parents need more human interaction to reassure them through the process. Call or meet with potential foster families when they submit an inquiry, instead of relying on automated emails and mailings. Speaking with potential families can help clarify expectations and get potential caregivers comfortable with moving to the next step. 

Additionally, when there’s too much automation upfront, families for whom fostering is not a good fit can get far into the process before they have an opportunity to talk with a real person. By speaking with potential families early, you can help dissuade families for whom fostering is not a good fit (e.g. families only interested in adopting infants), so your agency can focus on the families that best meet the needs of your current youth.

Track detailed referral information for new inquiries

Recommendation

When filling out a foster family inquiry form, most people default to saying they heard about fostering “from the website” or “online.” However, further questioning reveals they were really exposed through an event at their church, a family connection, a radio commercial, or other experience. 

By capturing detailed information about how new foster families were referred to your agency, you can focus on the highest-yield recruitment methods and avoid accidentally stopping methods that were, in fact, successfully recruiting families.

Track critical renewal dates on a calendar

Recommendation

Current CPR certification, training, pet vaccinations, and other requirements generally need to be renewed in order to renew a foster home license, but these specific renewal dates rarely line up with the overall foster home license renewal date. 

Adding critical dates like CPR certification renewals, pet vaccination expirations, and additional training dates to your calendar and sending families quick, timely reminders will help ensure that families are all caught up when it’s time to renew their license.

Use bilingual staff members instead of interpreters

Recommendation

Interpreters are highly skilled but they may not have child welfare specific knowledge. This can make it difficult to translate important content (especially on the fly) during foster parent orientation and training or in ongoing interactions. 

Relying on bilingual staff members whenever possible will help ensure that families receive and understand important information and trainings.

Use direct deposit to distribute extended foster care stipends

Recommendation

In some places, youth in Extended Foster Care must travel to an in-person meeting each month to physically receive their EFC stipend. This can be very burdensome for youth who are also working or in college, and who may not have access to reliable transportation. During the pandemic, this left many youth without access to their stipends. 

By using direct deposit to distribute extended foster care stipends, you can eliminate unnecessary barriers and ensure that youth receive their stipends reliably.

Use DNA to find more family connections

Recommendation

This idea is more controversial, and it's important to consider a youth's privacy and wishes. However, ancestry DNA tools that can uncover more family members can be a useful tool for children in care with no or limited kinship placement options or supportive adults.

Use evacuation plan magnets

Recommendation

Families often forget to complete their required fire and/or tornado evacuation practice throughout the year and don’t have this information available at license renewal. A dry-erase magnet reminds families to practice and serves as easy documentation that they did so.

Use Extreme Family Finding methods when necessary

Recommendation

Child welfare systems have limited resources for family finding, and family may be unwilling to talk to government officials like Department staff. Extreme Family Finding puts a private investigator on the case of finding a child’s full family tree, some of whom may be more willing to talk to a detective. 

Children who are selected for Extreme Family Finding can enter with as few as no connections, and a goal of creating a genogram of at least 125 adults. Extreme Family Finding also focuses on youth who are most at risk of aging out of care without permanency. While the primary goal for family finding is to find a permanent placement, this effort is also crucial for building up an entire supportive network for every youth.

Use a Heart Map to identify a youth’s important relationships

Recommendation

Many foster youth enter care with more connections than they leave with. If a supportive adult is not an immediate placement option, they are usually not tracked meaningfully by the system. But even if a contact does not serve as a placement option, they can still be an important part of a youth’s supportive network. 

The Heart Map exercise provides a meaningful way for staff to surface contacts with youth, in order to strengthen and maintain those relationships.

Use inquiry data to identify recruitment gaps

Recommendation

Examining inquiry data is one way you can help focus your recruitment efforts on the communities or neighborhoods where you most need homes but are receiving the fewest inquiries. Compare your inquiry data against any data you have about the characteristics of foster homes you need the most (e.g. zip codes where children most often experience removal). You can then clearly identify gaps where recruitment efforts can be focused.

Use social media to find family members

Recommendation

Social media is widely used across cultural, geographic, and economic groups. This makes social media a powerful and unique tool for finding family members of youth in foster care. 

Other people-finding tools — like credit searches — have limited databases. For example, you have to have a credit history to appear in most of them, entirely missing kin with thin or non-existent credit files.

Use specific language about the end of foster care

Recommendation

Youth often misunderstand when their foster care ends, sometimes by an entire year. In a multi-state discovery sprint with older foster youth, Think of Us found that when youth hear that foster care goes “until 21,” they believe that means “until their 22nd birthday,” when really it means that it ends on their 21st birthday.

If a youth believes that they have an entire extra year in foster care, they may accidentally delay plans and activities that can prepare them for independence. Using precise language to describe the day that foster care ends will help avoid this confusion.

Use youth data to drive foster family recruitment

Recommendation

Foster children do best with families who can most meet their needs. When a kinship caregiver isn’t available, the next best thing is a family that can keep youth in their school, community, and culture. Use data on the characteristics of youth when they enter foster care (such as language spoken, religion, and school district) to drive recruitment efforts.

Give new resource parents a welcome bag

Recommendation

Retention starts at the start! Drop off a welcome bag to new resource parents with a note that welcomes them to fostering and includes a combination of useful items and fun treats for the whole family.

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