Develop and Support Families

Ideas from the Field


Developing strategies to support both prospective and current foster, adoptive, and kinship families is the key to ensuring your agency’s recruitment efforts produce a sufficient pool of families for children and youth in foster care. To do this more successfully at your agency, use some or all of the strategies below:

Integrate Good Customer Service Principles Into Your Work With Families

Principles of good customer service capture the essence of what helps to support and develop families. Family engagement, at its core, is fundamentally about treating people well, meeting their needs, and providing encouragement all the way from pre-service training through post placement services. Below are two great resources on how to integrate customer service into your work.

Using Customer Service Concepts to Enhance Recruitment and Retention Practices (852 KB PDF)
This publication provides child welfare agency leaders with an overview of customer service concepts that can help with recruitment and retention of foster, adoptive, and kinship families. It also serves as a guide for agency leaders in assessing, developing, and implementing relevant policies and practices to support good customer service.

Treat Them Like Gold: A Best Practice Guide to Partnering With Resource Families  (3.9 MB PDF) by the North Carolina Division of Social Services.

  • Design evaluations of the foster care, adoption, and kinship care approval and preparation processes to obtain feedback from prospective parents. Use the feedback as a basis for making improvements in forms, informational material, preparation classes, and other key parts of the process that may be confusing for prospective parents.
  • Work with the appropriate agency leadership staff to designate a few parking spots at the agency’s parking lot as “Parking for Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Families Only” as a way of showing that the agency values these families.
  • Take a critical look at the room(s) where the agency holds parent orientation and training sessions. Find ways to make it more welcoming and friendly—consider adding kid artwork and photos, painting the walls and other warm touches.

If you want tailored assistance on how to integrate customer service principles into your family recruitment, development, and support work, explore our technical assistance services or contact us to find out more.

Developing Customer Service Standards and Guidelines

If your agency is considering developing customer service standards and behavioral guidelines, you should:

  • Ensure that the standards and guidelines will align with the mission of the agency.
  • Understand how customer service is currently being experienced by those who are involved with the system.
  • Seek input from agency staff, families involved with your agency, and other partners who directly or indirectly experience the system.

Options for getting customer input include:

  • Holding focus groups for both staff and families
  • Offering lunch-and-learn sessions
  • Individually interviewing families
  • Attending existing direct service team meetings or through annual and exit surveys from individuals involved in the system

Our customer service tools can help your agency begin to assess and gather information on your customer service needs:

Recruitment and Retention Strategies

Customer Service Workshop Facilitator's Manual (PDF – 1.3 MB)Simple Truths of Service Slideshow 
The Mississippi Department of Human Services developed this workshop and its materials as part of its diligent recruitment grant from the Children’s Bureau.  This workshop was developed to improve relationships both internally and externally.  In the introduction, Mississippi Department of Human services states, “We work to create a culture centered on customer service that includes not only our external customers but our staff as well! This handbook contains our customer service standards, customer service principles, and staff resources. We hope this information, along with this customer service workshop, will provide each of you with a variety of valuable customer service tools.”

Use Process Mapping to Examine How Your Agency Works With Families

Use process mapping to examine your agency’s process for prospective parents from responding to inquiries to conducting licensures and home studies. Exploring the process from both the agency's perspective and the prospective parent's point-of-view helps identify potential barriers or slow-down points that may hurt your efforts to recruit and retain parents.

We provide free technical assistance on process mapping for public agencies. Find out more about our how to request our T/TA.

Develop Respite Care Partnerships With Parent Support Groups

Develop respite care partnerships with parent support groups. These partnerships provide much-needed respite care options for foster, adoptive, and kinship families while ensuring the care provided is designed in ways that are responsive to the specific needs of parents, children and youth.

Learn more about how to form these partnerships by reading our two publications:

Offer a “While You Wait” Program

While You Wait, a program that supports and educates families waiting to adopt from the foster care system, serves two purposes: 1) enhanced preparation of families to make lifelong commitments to children and youth waiting to be adopted and 2) as a supplement to the amount of adoption-specific information, it can be offered in pre-service training.

Karen Miskunas, Program Manager at the Connecticut Department of Children and Family Services, shared details on the program’s creation:

When I came into my current position in 2005 we knew we had some excellent families who had come forward to adopt children from the foster care system. Like many States may have experienced, the type of children our waiting families had dreamed of parenting were not necessarily the same children in the State foster care system. We knew we needed to do something to open up this challenging conversation. We began by getting together with families who were waiting in one geographic area of the State.

We brought pictures of our waiting children (which were our Heart Gallery pictures) and talked about these children and the hundreds of others they represented who are adopted every year. It was an excellent beginning for our follow-up ‘While You Wait’ series of trainings and discussions.

Families are referred to While You Wait just before being licensed for adoption and are welcome to attend even after a placement has occurred. Topics are identified based on needs identified by staff and families. Sessions have addressed:

  • The post-licensing process for pre-adoptive families;
  • Understanding the adoption “journey” and post-adoption supports;
  • Legal risk adoption; open adoption; adopting transracially or transculturally; understanding loss and trauma;
  • The importance of biological family and the State’s Search Program for adult adoptees; the effects of substance abuse on child development;
  • Parenting strategies;
  • Life style issues, including nutrition;
  • Understanding attachment.

Each of the sessions is offered in a support group format emphasizing discussion rather than formal training.

Provide Tailored Support

Examine whether there are particular communities or subsets of prospective and current parent who aren’t currently receiving culturally appropriate support and may need specialized information or support opportunities. For example, consider developing support groups for adults who may be underserved by traditional support groups, such as:

Establish Procedures to Manage Foster Care Placement Disruptions

Establishing procedures for handling placement disruptions in a foster home helps staff and families know what to expect. By having a clear procedure outlined, agencies can reduce the confusion and uncertainty foster parents may feel when a child needs to be moved unexpectedly. This ensures foster parents feel their thoughts and voices are heard as part of the process.

An example of placement disruption procedures are the Unplanned Transfer Conferences (15 KB  PDF) the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth, and Families uses to facilitate conversations among its staff and foster parents about what happened in a particular situation and what could have been done better.

Streamline the Licensure or Approval Process

As part of its diligent recruitment grant, Denver County (CO) used the Lean process to streamline the certification process, aiming to make the process both faster and more focused on providing value to families.

Denver County’s data showed that the certification process took 240 days from the time of application to the time a family was certified. Through the Lean process, Denver County shortened the length of time it takes for a family to go through the certification process by approximately 62 percent, down to as little as 87 days.

By using process mapping of the full certification process, Denver County identified all of the parts of the process that didn’t provide value to the families. Denver County determined that approximately 80 percent of the process didn’t provide value to the families; they also identified which steps in the process they could change. For example, Denver County had been having digital fingerprinting done by a separate unit outside of the staff who certified families. The fingerprints took five to six weeks to get processed. Denver County was able to give certification staff access to the fingerprinting information, helping to expedite the process.

Create a Specialized Position to Recruit, Engage, Develop, and Support Families

As part of its diligent recruitment grant, Santa Cruz county (CA) established a specialized contractor position to recruit and support prospective parents. An outreach and recruitment coordinator — who is also an adoptive parent — reaches out to prospective families who inquire about foster care or adoption. This coordinator offers prospective parents support and helps guide them through the licensing process. She helps them access, complete, and submit applications and other required paperwork and provides support through each stage of the licensure or approval process. 

Santa Cruz county developed this support role because they saw that prospective parents became frustrated or overwhelmed by the application and licensure process. The coordinator provides prospective families with a consistent person to support them throughout the process, helping them navigate each step. Families can be in touch with the coordinator from the point of their initial recruitment through orientation and training, getting support and assistance to help them through each stage.

Because this coordinator role is a contracted position, and not an employee of the child welfare agency, the coordinator has an increased ability to connect with families as she carries no leverage over their case and cannot speak to the history of children’s cases. Being someone separate from the child welfare agency allows her to be more creative in her efforts and support.

Help Families Support Reunification

Reunification is the most common goal and outcome for children and youth in out-of-home care, and safe and timely family reunification is the preferred permanency outcome.

It is important for child welfare systems to recruit, develop, and support resource parents who can actively support reunification when it is the best permanency option so that foster parents continue to open their homes to children and youth in need of care.

In support of National Foster Care Month, NRCDR has compiled ideas and strategies to help child welfare systems recruit, develop, and support foster parents who can support reunification when it is the best permanency option for a child in their care. These include:

  • Establishing realistic foster parent expectations
  • Providing development opportunities on the foster parent’s role in reunification
  • Supporting foster families on the grief and loss they may experience during reunification

Read more about helping families support reunification.

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