Listening to Parents: Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Children from Foster Care (page 2)
Each year, public and private child welfare agencies spend tens of millions of dollars to recruit families to adopt children from foster care. Historically, these recruitment efforts have been based on the goal of obtaining large-scale responses to mass-market efforts such as television programs, newspaper columns featuring waiting children, placemats in restaurants, and two-minute “Wednesday’s Child” spots on local news broadcasts.
These campaigns are generally designed to get prospective applicants to make an initial phone call to inquire about adoption. By that measure, these efforts frequently succeed in generating initial interest from prospective adoptive parents: Each year, almost a quarter of a million Americans call social service agencies for information about adopting a child from foster care.
But new research by Adoption Institute Senior Fellow Jeff Katz – in conjunction with colleagues at Harvard University and the Urban Institute – shows that prospective parents who seek information about adopting a child from foster care are often put off by a system they view as too hard to access and more focused on screening out bad candidates than welcoming good ones.
Katz and his colleagues (Julie Wilson, Senior Lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rob Geen, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute) have conducted the largest study ever undertaken of attrition among prospective adoptive parents of children from foster care. They found the vast majority of adults (78%) who call for more information about becoming adoptive parents will not fill out an application or attend an orientation meeting. Just 6% of those who call for information actually complete the adoption homestudy, which is required for all prospective parents. And many of those who do complete a homestudy end up leaving the child welfare agency without ever adopting. While people may decide not to adopt for many reasons, the bottom line is that only a fraction of those recruited to call a child welfare agency actually do adopt.
Interviews and focus groups with prospective adoptive parents, as well as with agency staff members, document a range of frustrating issues and barriers that keep prospective parents from completing the process. These include differences between the kind of child prospective parents seek (or think they want) and those available; difficulty in accessing the agency or unpleasant initial contacts with it; and ongoing frustration with the agency or aspects of the process. Since this new study shows word of mouth is one of the two primary ways people learn about adopting from foster care (media is the other), such negative experiences may be greatly amplified as frustrated applicants relate their sentiments to their friends, families and acquaintances.
For each of the 126,000 children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted, an alienating experience for a prospective parent can mean the difference between a life spent in the uncertainty of temporary homes and the loving embrace of a permanent family. The cost to these children, and to society as a whole, is incalculable.
According to this research, the most effective way to create permanent, loving homes for waiting children may not be to recruit more families. Rather, it may be to change the system in a way that welcomes and nurtures adults who are willing, and in some cases avidly trying, to adopt a child from foster care.
Internal problems alienate many prospective parents
Researchers for this project, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, conducted the most intensive and sophisticated effort to date to understand the experience of people who adopt children from public child welfare agencies. The project included surveys of over 40 states, analysis of data from the 1997, 1998, and 1999 federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), more than 140 case record reviews, and case studies of adoption practices in three locations – Boston, Miami and San Jose – that involved focus groups and individual interviews with parents at various stages in the process of adoption, as well as with state and private adoption workers.
This study was conceived by Katz, then a Research Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and now a Senior Fellow at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which has assisted in the preparation and dissemination of the research. Katz’ work on the project was informed by 10 years of experience as Executive Director of Adoption Rhode Island, a statewide agency that recruits families to adopt children from foster care. The study focused on “general applicants,” defined as people who have expressed an interest in adopting a child from the foster care system whom they do not know. The project has, for the first time, documented the extent of attrition as applicants go from their initial inquiry through the adoption process, why large numbers of prospective parents are (or become) discouraged from adopting, and which aspects of the process alienate them.
Among the study’s major findings were:
- The first informational call is key. People adopt for many reasons. For some callers, their first inquiry about adoption comes at the end of a painful journey that may include illness, infertility, degrading medical procedures, or unbearable loss. When making their first inquiry, applicants noted they wanted to obtain accurate information and to be treated well. Workers also mentioned the need for sensitivity.
- Agencies often do not handle that first call well. Parents reported their initial contacts with agencies were the most difficult aspect of the process for two reasons: First, callers often had difficulty reaching the right person, being sent to voice mail or transferred from one person to another. Second, agency personnel answering the first call are often clerical staff with inadequate knowledge of the process, or the focus of the initial call is to screen out “inappropriate” applicants rather than to welcome prospective adoptive parents. Applicants who made a strong initial connection with a worker were best able to tolerate the inevitable frustrations of the process. This connection was often the “make or break” factor for prospective parents.
- The emphasis is too often on weeding out applicants rather than recruiting them. Some agencies have procedures that are far more heavily weighted toward screening out inappropriate applicants rather than recruiting, and supporting, good prospective parents. Two examples: multipage questionnaires that must be filled out before callers may attend informational meetings; and informational meetings that begin with fingerprinting and focus on technical restrictions about who can adopt, rather than on the rewards and challenges of adopting a child from foster care.
- Parents are generally satisfied with training and homestudy. Adopting a child who has been placed in foster care because of abuse or neglect is inherently challenging. The great majority of parents who completed the adoption training process reported being pleased with the preparation they received. Although some said their trainings portrayed the children in an overly negative light, most felt they had a better understanding of, and greater sensitivity toward, the children they would be adopting.
- The attrition rate rises sharply as prospective families go from initial call to adoption. The research indicates states annually receive about 240,000 inquiries a year from prospective parents regarding the adoption of a child from foster care. Complications in data collection result in significant numbers of “general applicants” being classified as foster parents who adopt their foster children. However, using the state definition of general applicants, only one in 28 people who call for information about the adoption of a child from foster care eventually adopt such a child. Even under a broader definition of “general applicant,” the percentage that complete the process clearly is very small.
Reprinted with the permission of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. © 2007 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. All rights reserved.
Add your own comment
Today on Education.com
WORKBOOKSMay Workbooks are Here!
WE'VE GOT A GREAT ROUND-UP OF ACTIVITIES PERFECT FOR LONG WEEKENDS, STAYCATIONS, VACATIONS ... OR JUST SOME GOOD OLD-FASHIONED FUN!Get Outside! 10 Playful Activities
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Bullying in Schools
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- First Grade Sight Words List