We have a nationwide shortage of foster families and everyone is interested in increasing this number.
At Binti, we work with more than 40 agencies across the country, who serve over 40,000 children in care. In the past year alone, we’ve helped our agencies process more than 10,000 inquiries from families interested in fostering children.
What we see from looking across our agencies is that percentage of conversion rates for those who actually become foster parents vary widely across our agencies. We’ve dug into these to try to figure out some lessons learned. Here are some takeaways:
Be proactive. Agencies with higher conversion rates tend to have a recruiter who is proactive and reaches out to recruited families who start any part of the application process (for example, who complete a partial online application or submit a partial paper application). Agencies that wait until the applicant has completed the whole application, or wait until the applicant reaches out for help, tend to have lower conversion rates. As soon as someone starts an application or does any part of the process, have a recruiting team member reach out to see if they have any questions and guide them through the process.
Make recruited foster parents a priority in supervision meetings. Often foster parents, or “community families,” get deprioritized compared to relative families, especially in agencies that have emergency placements in relative homes. If supervisors don’t accentuate the importance of following up quickly and moving community families along and only focus time on the urgent emergency placement or relative homes, workers will prioritize what their supervisors tell them to, and community applications will suffer.
Have workers who focus only on recruited families. Given relative cases with children in the home are always more “urgent,” it’s hard for a worker with relative and non-relative applicants to prioritize community cases on any given day. If you go a long time without following up with them, they can be discouraged and have a bad impression of the process and your agency, leading them to drop out. One thing to consider is having workers that only work on non-relative cases to make sure these get enough attention.
Minimize driving time for your workers. Take into account geography when assigning caseloads so workers can visit multiple homes at once. Binti tries to make this easy through a heat map feature that can show all cases on a map by worker. We’re hearing this helps assign cases that minimize driving.
Don’t lose community inquiries. It’s hard to keep track of every person that reaches out over email, phone or at events. If a recruiter is keeping track on sticky notes in her office, there is a high chance you may lose track of some families. It’s helpful to have a tracking tool where everyone on the team keeps track of inquiries in a consistent and thorough way, whether it’s Binti or you develop your own tool.
Let families do their application online. People are used to modern technology in other areas of their lives. If they are interested in being a foster parent and are presented with a stack of paperwork, it does not give them a good first impression of how user friendly this process is going to be. Letting people apply online gives them a modern, positive impression of the agency. It also allows you to capture their momentum right when they are interested. If they research becoming a foster family on a Saturday on their couch, they can go ahead and apply right then. As I’ve written about before, agencies have seen a 300 percent increase in community applications from working with Binti just from letting people get started online and not losing track of any families that make an inquiry.
Outreach to dropouts. Circle back to community families that dropped out of the process. Often families start the process and then experience a life event or are just not quite ready to start caring for children. Implementing a strategy to keep track of and reach back out to these families maintains your connection and often results in re-engagement.
Take targeted recruitment seriously. If we are recruiting families that don’t align with the needs of our children, then we are increasing caseloads for our workers spending time approving families that are not going to help our agency.
Felicia Curcuru is the co-founder and CEO of Binti, an organization dedicated to building software to alleviate the shortage of foster parents and help every child have a loving, stable home.