22, No. 3
Supporting and Developing the Resource Families You Have
We ask a lot from resource families. We want them to 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.
Really, the surprising part is not that we have trouble finding families, but that so many come forward. But come forward they do. They make the tough decision to bring a child into their lives. They go to training. They navigate the foster home licensing process.
And then, after all that, many leave. Sometimes the cause is natural and unavoidable: families move, or there is a significant life event. But the most common reason foster parents leave is a perceived lack of responsiveness, communication, and support from the very system that worked so hard to recruit them (NCR-DR, 2009).
How is this possible? More to the point, what can we do about it?
Reframing Our Perspective
The National Resource Center for Diligent Recruitment (NRC-DR) suggests using a customer service model focused on making sure each family (1) feels respected and valued, (2) feels like a significant contributor to the challenging work of child welfare, (3) gets the support they need, (4) has opportunities for growth, and (5) receives timely responses when they have a need.
A good first step is to assess the extent to which your agency uses a customer service approach with resource families. Conducting satisfaction surveys with current families and exit interviews or surveys with those who leave is an excellent starting point. You can find examples of questions asked in foster parent exit interviews here http://bit.ly/2ruYpZu and here http://bit.ly/2sDcKmq.
The NRC-DR also provides a great 4-page tool agencies can use to gauge how "family friendly" their recruitment and retention process is. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/2sDeo7.
According to the NRC-DR, supporting families is not just about post-placement services, but an array of confidence- and skill-building services that begin when families first apply to foster. Selected support ideas include:
For a full NRC-DR article on this, visit http://bit.ly/2ruMOtz.