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12 tips for keeping prospective parents engaged during uncertain times

Mother, teen, and father standing in front of house.

The process of becoming a foster or adoptive parent can be stressful. In the midst of a public health crisis, that process may become even more challenging for prospective families. They may be unsure of how to proceed and assume that they cannot complete training, their home study, or accept a placement in the current circumstances.

But children still need foster and adoptive families, and child welfare systems need to find ways to keep interested families engaged.

1. Create opportunities for families to get timely, updated information.

Families may get confused or frustrated as they try to understand changes to the approval or placement process as your system adjusts to new challenges.

They may assume that their application, preservice training, or home study is on hold and become disengaged.

It’s important for you to proactively communicate as quickly as possible about how you plan to move forward. Consider using mass communication tools, such as services for sending bulk emails or automatic text messages, so that families receive more frequent messages with up-to-date information that affects them.

Some child welfare systems are hosting virtual events where they share updates with their prospective families and answer any questions.

2. Host virtual information sessions.

You can hold live virtual information sessions on platforms like Facebook Live or Zoom, or you can prerecord parts of your orientation and host live Q-and-A sessions for families who have viewed the recording.

Some systems are also having workers hold individual virtual meetings with prospective parents, which presents a great opportunity to start building relationships early.

3. Format some or all of your preservice training for online delivery.

Some agencies are moving part of or all of their preservice training for prospective families online. Moving a training that is designed for in-person interaction into a virtual format can be challenging, and you’ll want to ensure that the core lessons and purposes are not lost. You may need to modify various exercises or activities to work in a virtual format. Often virtual participants will need more individual time with the trainer so they can ask questions and the trainer can better assess their learning.

Consider partnering with a local college or university, as they can provide insight into designing effective online training. You can also connect with peers around the country to learn from their experience moving to online training.

4. Facilitate virtual support groups specifically for prospective parents.

Peer support is especially effective for easing anxieties and normalizing questions or fears. Make sure that your prospective parents are not forgotten as you provide opportunities for peer support. Read our tips and insights on facilitating virtual parent support groups.

5. Provide virtual training on topics relevant to foster and adoptive families.

Prospective parents want to continue to learn and build their skills so they are ready for a placement when the time comes. Providing webinars on topics such as grief and loss, trauma’s impact on behavior, or on caring for children with specific diagnoses helps to keep people engaged and helps to better prepare them for parenting.

6. Connect with families frequently.

Let prospective parents know that you haven’t forgotten about them.

Though families will differ in how frequently they would like to be contacted, start by reaching out to them often. Even when you’re unsure of how the process will go, a thoughtful note or call from their worker can go a long way in keeping prospective parents engaged and excited about foster or adoptive parenting.

7. Prepare guides or checklists.

Create guides for prospective parents that highlight any changes to the approval process during the health crisis. You could also make checklists of tasks families can complete while other parts of the approval process are on hold, such as preparing their home for the home inspection. Also consider providing families with lists of the support services available to them, reminding them that they don’t have to have a placement before they access support.

8. Be flexible in completing the approval process.

It may seem as though the approval process for foster and adoptive parents must be put on hold if you can’t see them in-person, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Some systems are using technology to complete some or all of the interviews and home inspections virtually. Other systems are temporarily modifying some licensure requirements for certain circumstances or special populations, such as kinship caregivers.

The Children’s Bureau has also released guidance on fingerprint background checks during the health crisis. Collaborate with your agency leadership and licensing entity to explore options for flexibility during this unprecedented time and keep families moving through the approval process. Knowing that the process isn’t stalled will encourage families to stay engaged in completing their licensure requirements.

9. Match prospective parents with other parents for mutual support.

Pairing prospective parents with each other or with more experienced resource parents helps to relieve stress and encourages informal peer connections that will be a support to them after placement. Parents can be matched based on geographical location, interests, family structure, or parenting experience. As you connect parents with each other, consider helping them break the ice by facilitating the first conversation.  

10. Help prospective parents create videos that can be shared with youth.

Those who are approved to adopt but are waiting to be matched with a child may have extra time on their hands. Help them create videos, photo books, scrapbooks, or other items about their family that can be shared with youth who need an adoptive family. This activity can help prospective parents feel productive while they wait and will ultimately help you find the right matches for youth.

11. Use virtual visits to connect prospective parents with youth in need of adoptive families.

Virtual visits can help prospective parents and young people start getting to know each other as they consider a match. Some systems have even reported that teenagers prefer these virtual meetings, as they are often comfortable in virtual spaces and they may experience less anxious anticipation than they do ahead of in-person visits.

12. Ask prospective parents what support they need from you right now.

Everyone responds differently to stress and uncertainty and may need something different. Tailor your support to match their needs.

Though there remain many unknowns at this time, your support, flexibility, and encouragement will help to keep prospective foster and adoptive parents engaged and ready to move forward.