Why and how to support adoptive, foster, and kinship families
Offering family support is just one item on your long list of things to do—and perhaps not at the top. But research and experience demonstrate that giving adoptive, foster, and kinship families the support they need to succeed benefits them and improves your recruitment and retention efforts. Below we provide highlights of why and how child welfare systems implement family support services.
Providing support offers a wide range of benefits
Of course, the primary reason for providing support programs is to improve child and family well-being. Providing support services to families helps children and youth overcome challenges and families cope with, or reduce the impact of, the challenges that remain. This, in turn, promotes placement stability and permanency. It also helps you find and keep skilled families. Agencies typically provide support because the services:
Instill confidence in prospective families. As people consider whether to pursue foster or adoptive parenting or kinship care, they will likely wonder if they will be able to get support when they need it. Being able to show that you have high-quality support services helps prospective parents feel confident they will be able to meet their children’s needs—now and in the future.
Show families that they are valued partners. By keeping families engaged and feeling valued, you help retain them. This helps you achieve your permanency goals and your placement stability goals, and provides more placement options that allow for good matches and fewer moves for children.
Are adoption and permanency competent. Resource families have unique needs based on the way their families were formed and the common loss and trauma experiences of youth and caregivers. When child welfare systems provide support services, they can also ensure that providers are well-versed in the needs of adoptive, foster, and kinship families and the core issues these families face.
Comply with requirements. In some cases, systems create or expand support services to meet legal, funding, or other requirements. These include
- the requirement to spend a portion of Title IV-B, subpart 2 funds on adoption promotion and support;
- the requirement to reinvest savings from Title IV-E de-link for adoption assistance eligibility into post-adoption or guardianship support; and
- requirements imposed as part of a settlement agreement or consent decree.
How systems provide family support
Although child welfare systems offer family support services in a variety of ways, there are some common strategies for implementing these services.
Funding direct services. Some systems allocate dedicated funding for support services, delivered directly by child welfare agency staff. The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Family Services Department provides ongoing support to children and youth in out-of-home care and their caregivers. Services include initial assessments; ongoing case management; health, behavioral, and educational support for children and youth; and parenting classes.
Grants to or contracts with nonprofits. With this approach, child welfare agencies may have one or two state- or tribe-wide contracts to offer multiple forms of support. Or they may enter into several individual contracts for specific regions, types of services, or target populations.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services created a Permanency Support Services program that funds multiple contractors to offer services around the state. Services include peer-to-peer support, youth and family activities, help accessing mental health services, child assessments, enhanced recruitment activities, and training for parents and professionals.
Contracts and partnerships with public entities. Some systems partner with other public agencies either through formal contracts or less formal partnerships.
The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services contracts with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology to provide support through the UCLA TIES for Families program. The public child welfare agency refers families to the program for services.
Things to consider when developing support services
Whichever approach you take for developing or expanding services, there are some important considerations.
Understand needs. Support services must be aimed at the real needs of children and families in your area. Using a community needs assessment or similar process can help you understand families’ priorities so you can offer the support services needed most.
Ensure parents and young people help design services. When beginning or expanding support services, getting input from families can help ensure your services will be relevant, accessible, and responsive.
Engage families in the services. Simply offering support services isn’t sufficient for improving placement stability, permanency, and well-being. You need strategies to make families aware of the services and how to access them. Be thoughtful and intentional about ways to encourage families to come forward for support and listen to their feedback on what barriers they face in using the services.
Explore how any new services might fit in your service array. You likely have some support for families already, so it’s important to assess existing services and see how any new or expanded services fit into what you already provide. Ideally, your new services will help fill a gap or expand the capacity of an effective service.
Consider sustainability. Families need to be able to rely on support services being available when they need them, whether now or in the future. To see the benefits of providing support services—especially benefits related to recruitment—you need to have a plan that will allow your support services to continue across budget cycles and administrations.
Resources to assist you
Providing high-quality, accessible family support services is a key part of helping foster, adoptive, and kinship families have stability and well-being. Whatever your system’s support service array is now, there are great strategies and service approaches that you can learn to better meet the needs of the children and families you serve. Explore the resources below and reach out to AdoptUSKids at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss ways we can help.
- Watch our webinar on Addressing Grief and Loss in Your Support of Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Families.
- Read about Improving Family Preservation Services for Adoptive and Guardianship Families.
- Watch our webinar on Evaluating Your Support Services for Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Families.
- Bring stakeholders together to use the AdoptUSKids Support Services Assessment Tool and its companion guide.
- Read family support program profiles.
- Find more tools, recorded webinars, and other materials on family support strategies.