L.A. County Looks to Business Sector Strategy to Recruit and Retain Foster Parents

Los Angeles County has endorsed a new plan to attract and retain prospective foster parents: treat them like customers.

The county Board of Supervisors approved a $50,000 contract Tuesday with RaiseAChild (RAC), an organization that recruits and provides support for foster families in Southern California, to develop a digital customer relationship manager (CRM). County officials hope that a new system can increase the county’s foster parent roster by improving communication and support between the county and caregivers and preventing delays during the application and approval process.

“The aim is to learn from the business sector whose very success relies on keeping the line of communication open, ongoing and fully accessible to all its constituents,” according to a proposal submitted to the board.

The contract will pay RAC $25,000 a year for two years to fund the CRM project, with the option to extend it for an additional two years. The proposal is funded in part by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), an organization that brings together child protection, law enforcement, education and other public agencies to coordinate services and interventions around child welfare. The effort has also received funding from the Annenberg Foundation.

“In response to a number of changes in state law, the county needs to increase the number of families willing to foster children,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “We are confident that RaiseAChild can help us recruit and retain those families so that every child in the county can have a loving home.”

RAC’s new system aims to create a better way to monitor and track communications with prospective foster parents. It will use surveys to “provide greater insight into common areas in the resource family approval process at which prospects are most at risk to drop out,” according to RAC’s proposal.

In recent years, the county has struggled to consistently maintain a sufficient supply of foster family homes to meet the needs of the some 18,000 youth in out-of-home care.

Under California’s Continuum of Care Reform (CCR), counties are now under pressure to offer more family-like placements and fewer slots in group homes. But under CCR, a new approval process for caregivers — including both foster parents and relative caregivers — has made it more difficult for counties to license those caregivers in a timely manner.

As a result, some counties, L.A. included, are experiencing a bottleneck of applications, unable to process and approval them quickly enough.

RAC, which works with foster family agencies to match its recruits with kids in need, said they currently have some 3,500 applications awaiting attention, in addition to more than 8,000 active foster parents they’re already working with. But with just two staff members, they don’t have the bandwidth to efficiently manage and give personalized attention to each application.

“Our two parent advocates are trying to keep up with over 4,000 folks each and trying to reach out to them,” said Rich Valenza, founder and CEO of RAC.

In addition to increasing long-term retention, RAC suggests that using CRM will lead to overall growth of recruitment efforts, as more effective feedback facilitated by the system will give service providers a better understanding of the needs and experiences of folks going through the application process.

“The biggest complaint we hear is these people with good intentions start the process, but then they get into a limbo period where communications oftentimes stop.” Valenza said. “They tell our parent advocates they’re frustrated that they’re not hearing — confused about if it’s a problem with them.”

The CRM will also provide feedback about how the approval process is working for prospective foster parents — something Valenza thinks will help them improve their recruitment process.

“We not only want to find out where they are in the progress of the process, we also want to find out how they’re feeling there,” he said.

Supporting the plan is a 2016 study looking at the county’s recruitment and retention issue, which suggested that customer service messaging were areas ripe for improvement. Moreover, researchers found that personalized interactions were more effective than large recruitment events — though Valenza has plans to use CRM to improve those, too, with automated, personalized follow up messaging.

The RAC contract is funded through the County Children’s Trust Fund, which collects funds for child abuse prevention and intervention by directing a portion of each fee charged for certified copies of birth certificates in the county.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of RaiseAChild CEO Rich Valenza. The error has been corrected.

Please join us for an important event focused on foster care and faith communities in Los Angeles on Oct. 16. You can learn more and register here: bit.ly/WhoCaresLA

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Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change
About Sara Tiano, Staff Writer, The Chronicle of Social Change 124 Articles
General assignment reporter for The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach her at stiano@chronicleofsocialchange.org.