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2008 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 13, No. 3
July 2008

Retention IS Recruitment

Our system demands a great deal from resource families. We want them to simultaneously play a variety of complex roles: reunification partner with the birth family, contributing member of the team of professionals serving the child and family, potential permanent family for the child if reunification is not possible, and loving caretaker for the child (Casey Family Programs, 2002). We want them to do everything from shared parenting to participating in child and family team meetings to taking the children to all their appointments.

Indeed, the surprising part of recruitment is not that we have trouble finding families, but that there are so many out there who feel called to come forward. But come forward they do. They make the tough decision to bring a child into their lives. They survive our stringent licensing process. They go to training. They take children into their homes.

And then, after all that, a great many of them leave. According to several studies, at least half of resource families quit within the first year of fostering (National Commission of Family Foster Care, 1991; Gibbs, 2005). The reason they most often give is not the difficulty of the child or challenges in their family life, but lack of support by the very system that worked so hard to recruit them.

How is this possible? More to the point, what can we do about it?

Our System’s Ambivalence
In its 2002 report Recruitment and Retention of Resource Families: The Promise and the Paradox, Casey Family Programs attempts to answer these questions. The report suggests that the complex expectations we have of resource families are sometimes hard for social workers to manage, too. Within resource families’ numerous and sometimes contradictory-seeming roles there is “ample opportunity for the lines of responsibility and authority to become blurred . . . and for the presumed partnership between the resource family and the social worker to become one that lacks trust and respect” (p. 54). In this context, true partnership is difficult.

Societal values may also be a barrier. One foster care professional cited in the report puts it this way:

In American culture . . . individualism is at the heart of what we value and cherish. So, if someone comes along who says, “I want to make this sacrifice to help others because it’s in my heart, or Jesus said to give, or I want to help a child,” there is something in most of us that just doesn’t trust this motive—we are suspect and we communicate this suspicion through code words such as “understanding a person’s motivation.” We imply “they are doing it for the money” or . . . they are “religious fanatics” if their motivation is based on a philosophical framework of God or church. . .

The sad reality is, more often than not, should a member of the community come forward to say, I want to be a part of “the village that is raising this child” our first words are: “You have to be fingerprinted first.” How does this engage and draw families to be a part of the community helping system?

Other retention barriers identified by The Promise and the Paradox, which draws its conclusions from interviews with stakeholders in many states, include agencies’ failure to share adequate and necessary information with resource families due to unfounded concerns about confidentiality and the way resource families are treated during investigations of child maltreatment in their homes.

What Agencies Can Do
If it is true that our failure to provide adequate support is impeding our ability to ensure children have the resource families they need, what can be done about it?

A good first step is to assess the situation in your agency. Conduct satisfaction surveys with your current resource families and exit interviews or surveys with those who leave to find out whether support is an issue. To support resource families The Promise and the Paradox suggests that agencies must also ensure:

  • Staff are trained during their orientation about the importance of creating strong partnerships with resource families.

  • Staff view resource families as role models and mentors to the birth family and as such, incorporate these roles into the planning when crafting case plans.

  • Staff practice this partnership by inviting families to all team meetings and asking resource families to provide feedback on the well-being of children in their care.

  • Staff are trained to respond to resource families’ requests for help in a timely manner and to be available for crisis situations.

The Promise and the Paradox can be found on the Casey Family Programs website at <http://www.casey.org>.

References for this and other articles in this issue