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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 22, No. 3
June 2017

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
If you ask foster families if they would rather be "retained" or "supported," which would they choose? Reframing our perspective from retaining families to supporting and developing their ability to nurture and care for children can help welcome foster families into a collaborative and reciprocal relationship. This is consistent with seeing recruitment and retention not as solitary events, but rather as parts of a relational process.

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 and here

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:

Don't Miss this Customer Service Guide

The NRC-DR has developed a fabulous 50-page guide to help agencies use customer service to improve their recruitment and retention efforts and provide a more positive experience for foster, adoptive, and kinship families.

The guide contains a framework emphasizing processes, relationships, and organizational commitment to good service; offers suggestions for implementing a customer service approach; and contains a wealth of ideas and tools agencies can use. You can find it here:

Supporting Families
A challenge in supporting families is helping them navigate the gap between their expectations before the placement and the reality after placement, as well as navigating the impact fostering has on their family. Routine home visits with resource parents can be used to help explore these issues and provide needed support, so that challenges don't become crises. Often a genuinely listening ear helps families process changes and adjust their expectations.

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:

  • Connecting families during the licensure process with other waiting or experienced families
  • Helping parents self-assess their strengths and weaknesses
  • Training on evidence-based and trauma-informed practices
  • Sharing information about the child's history and needs

For a full NRC-DR article on this, visit

Developing Families
In a sense, developing families means every interaction you have with them increases their ability to meet the needs of a child in foster care. Families need opportunities to develop before and while children are placed with them. The NRC-DR suggests helping families self-assess what information, training, or support they need to "help them feel confident and capable about parenting." Conducting interviews every time a placement ends also helps families develop, since the process identifies what worked well and where additional supports or resources may be needed. Post-placement interviews can be conducted regardless of the reason the placement ends.

References for this and other articles in this issue