Allegheny County’s Treasure Hunt to Help Staff Learn More about Specific Communities
Using a creative activity such as a treasure hunt or scavenger hunt in specific geographic areas can help staff, families, and other key stakeholders deepen their understanding of and connection to key communities. By structuring the treasure hunt as an interactive experience through which staff travel to various locations to meet members of the community and visit important locations (e.g., areas that are gathering places, places of worship, well-respected small businesses and organizations), you can provide a rich opportunities for people to interact directly with community members and to see how people are living, working, and playing within the community. Reaching out to community members—both in official leadership positions and others who are trusted members of the communities even without formal leadership roles—will help your agency engage participants for a treasure hunt while also demonstrating your respect for the people who are the heart and soul of a particular community.
As part of its data-driven recruitment efforts targeting specific communities from which large numbers of children enter foster care so they can allow more children to remain in their home community, Allegheny County (PA) planned a treasure hunt in one of its targeted communities. The agency’s specific goals for the staff who participated included: change any negative attitudes about the community; develop a truer understanding of the community and its history; and establish relationships in the community to support recruitment of new resource families for teens. The agency engaged community leaders, including the mayor, so they were present to provide encouragement as teams embarked on the treasure hunt. Allegheny County involved the local school, police department, and fire department; businesses, organizations, and community leaders greeted the teams. Each team received a set of instructions that included map cards containing directions and clues they used to determine specific destinations to visit. At each destination, they took a photo, obtained an item, or collected information to respond to a question. The treasure hunt required that teams walk around, explore, and have conversations with people in the community.
Allegheny County: “Foster Goodness” treasure hunt
As part of community engagement efforts within its Diligent Recruitment Grant, Allegheny County (PA) planned “Foster Goodness,” a community-experience treasure hunt for staff responsible for recruiting resource families. This event provided an opportunity for staff to learn about and engage with a community where resource families were needed.
Identifying the need
Allegheny County’s child welfare agency used data to identify a geographic community from which many older youth enter foster care. Allegheny County hoped to strengthen the relationship between family foster care agencies and this diverse borough, in which the majority of residents are African American. The child welfare system had not yet focused recruitment efforts on this borough, but believed that it could be a potential source of new resource families. A stronger relationship could help providers recruit and retain more resource families of color for teens and garner more community support for foster families. Increasing the number of resource families living in this area would allow more youth who come into foster care to remain in their community. It was important for staff to address any personal biases and dispel myths about the community, as fear or discomfort might present obstacles to successful community engagement and recruitment efforts.
Goals and benefits of the treasure hunt
The goals of the Foster Goodness project were to help staff: change any negative attitudes about the community; develop a truer understanding of the community and its history; and, develop relationships in the community to support recruitment of new resource families for teens. The goals of this event aligned with Allegheny’s County’s work to reduce racial disproportionality.
Allegheny County strategically planned the treasure hunt event designed to achieve three objectives for staff:
- Build relationships with community members (and one another) that could strengthen targeted recruitment efforts
- Become more familiar with resources available in the community
- Better understand the impact of the child welfare system on the community
As they prepared for the treasure hunt, staff planning the event worked to involve the agency in community life. Planning for and participating in the treasure hunt provided opportunities for child welfare staff to engage with the broader community in new and positive ways. Given this engagement, additional benefits of the effort could include:
- Improving the community’s perception of and relationship to the child welfare agency
- Raising awareness of the needs of children and youth from the community involved in the child welfare system
- Raising awareness of the need for support of resource families in the community
- Encouraging community members to become involved with meeting the needs of children and youth from their community who are in foster care
Preparing for the treasure hunt
The child welfare agency prepared for the treasure hunt by reaching out to community leaders to plan the event collaboratively. In laying the groundwork for the treasure hunt, the agency’s community engagement staff worked to become more involved in the community. They also engaged their youth speakers bureau in connecting with the community. Community engagement staff raised awareness in the community of the agency’s needs and learned about available resources. Staff developed a deeper understanding of how the community is affected when children are removed from their homes and neighborhoods. In addition to planning the treasure hunt, the agency became involved in other community activities, which helped demonstrate the agency’s credibility and commitment. This also helped child welfare staff develop relationships with community leaders who could become partners in future community engagement and recruitment efforts. Allegheny County noted that the project, particularly the relationship-building involved, required an extensive commitment of time to be successful.
The Community Experience PowerPoint Presentation (5.9 MB PDF) was shared with stakeholders in the community, including the mayor, business owners, and other community leaders, in order to provide them with information about the “Foster Goodness” community experience.
Treasure hunt details
- The treasure hunt began in a meeting space set up as a mock community environment, where participants received directions and information about the “Foster Goodness” experience.
- Participants were grouped into teams and wore “Foster Goodness” t-shirts to make them visible in the community.
- Community leaders, including the mayor, were present to provide encouragement as teams embarked on the treasure hunt.
- Each team received a set of instructions that included map cards containing directions and clues they used in visiting specific destinations. At each destination, they took a photo, obtained an item, or collected information to respond to a question. The agency provided a helpline to provide teams with additional clues as needed.
- Businesses, organizations, and community leaders greeted “Foster Goodness” teams. The agency also involved the local school, police department, and fire department.
- The treasure hunt required that teams walk around, explore, and have conversations with people in the community.
- Teams had 2–3 hours to complete the treasure hunt and then returned to the meeting location to debrief the experience.
Impact of the treasure hunt
During Allegheny County’s event debrief, it was evident that the community experience provided a new perspective for participants. Some participants shared that they felt uncomfortable at first and were able to draw a parallel to how youth may feel when removed from their home and placed in an unfamiliar environment. Staff have returned to the community to continue to develop relationships started through the experience and to recruit local resource families.