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Recruiting in the Deaf Community


Washington State public agencies joined forces to reach a previously untapped pool of foster and adoptive families.

A creative partnership that began in July 2013 has led to exciting new recruitment and response efforts in Washington state. Thanks to the state’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ODHH) reaching out to the state’s Department of Social and Health Services Children’s Administration about a desire to work together to recruit more deaf foster families, the child welfare system in Washington is now reaching a previously untapped resource for foster and adoptive families.

After connecting with ODHH, the Children’s Administration realized that they didn’t have enough knowledge and expertise to do effective recruitment in deaf communities and that they needed more discussion about the needs of deaf children in foster care. To inform their efforts, leaders at the Children’s Administration decided to partner with ODHH.

As Washington State implemented this new targeted recruitment effort, it learned that there had been instances of misinformation—with some families being told that they could not become foster parents because they were deaf—and that the deaf community was excited about being able to help children from their community. Since 2013, the state has had at least 13 families who are deaf or proficient in American Sign Language (ASL) become licensed foster families. The state is currently creating a statewide listing of deaf foster families so workers around the state can identify placement options for deaf children.

Key Steps

  • Children’s Administration and ODHH partnering to develop targeted messages about deaf children in foster care, including data on the number of deaf children in foster care and information about the recruitment and licensing process for deaf prospective parents.
  • Finding appropriate partners and allies in communities—most commonly the Regional Deaf Service Centers, schools for the deaf, libraries, and community colleges providing instruction in ASL—to provide locations for hosting recruitment and orientation sessions for the deaf community.
  • Leveraging ODHH’s community connections to invite deaf prospective parents to information sessions and recruitment events.
  • Using ODHH-provided interpreters for the recruitment and orientation sessions, with two and sometimes three interpreters for every meeting.
  • Adding photos to recruitment materials showing a mom signing to a child.
  • Establishing response systems in the child welfare agency that allows deaf and hard of hearing prospective parents to contact the agency and get the information and support they need.
  • Having the Children’s Administration contract directly with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, with the interpreters going along with staff for home studies for the licensing process.
  • Reaching out to colleges and universities that are teaching ASL. This allows the state to tap into groups of hearing people who are learning ASL and are interested in supporting deaf children.
  • Partnering with agency divisions involved in the licensing process to help inform staff about the requirements for having interpreters for each session.
  • Having ODHH help Children’s Administration staff address their own biases. For example, they helped staff reframe their questions such as “How will the parents hear the baby cry?” to more appropriate questions such as “How will the parents be able to keep the baby safe?” These discussions helped staff to understand what adults who are deaf do as alternatives to hearing noises or alarms.
  • Educating staff on effective communication options between deaf parents and hearing staff, such as email, CapTel (captioned telephone), and local telephone Relay Services. Many states offer free access to phone service for deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, and speech-disabled individuals. In Washington, the Relay Service is promoted through the “Don’t Hang Up” campaign that informs the community about making and receiving calls between deaf and hearing callers. Children’s Administration has worked to educate its staff about the system so they would know that the call wasn’t from a telemarketer and that it was a legitimate call from a deaf caller.

Tips for Other Child Welfare Systems for Recruiting in the Deaf Community

  • Start the conversation with colleagues in the appropriate agency about how to engage and recruit deaf prospective parents. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Look at your data to find out how many children would benefit from having placement options with deaf foster families. Use this data to be able to set realistic expectations for prospective families about the number of deaf children needing placement.
  • Keep the families engaged. For example, consider setting up a Facebook group for deaf/ASL families so they can stay in touch with each other.
  • Connect with your Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (or equivalent agency in your jurisdiction) to find out where the Regional Deaf Service Centers are; these will likely be your hubs for recruiting in deaf communities.
  • Be prepared for specific customs. For example, some deaf communities have a custom for a lengthy goodbye, talking with everyone. Plan for this and allow for the needed time when scheduling your events.
  • Have people RSVP to events so you can plan ahead and have the appropriate number of interpreters.