Ideas from Across Wisconsin

Each day, Wisconsin foster and adoptive workers use creative and successful techniques to recruit and retain the unique families that serve children in foster care and adoption.

Make use of these ideas or expand upon them to recruit or retain foster and adopt families. If your agency has had successful strategies, please share your ideas by contacting us.

We are happy to post your ideas.

Iowa County Facebook Page
Fond du Lac County
Walworth County Media Outreach
St. Aemillian-Lakeside
Sheboygan County Retention

Marinette County Gifts
Retention Ideas from Door County

Planting the Foster Care Seed in Washburn County
Saturday Harbor Market Recruitment in Kenosha County

Iowa County Facebook Page
(Posted March, 2011)
Beth Enwright, foster care coordinator for Iowa County Department of Social Services, has created a Facebook profile and Facebook "group" for current foster parents to interact with one another. The foster parents enjoy connecting with each other and it's a great way for them to suggest reading material, events, etc. for other foster parents to check out. It's also a great way for the foster care coordinator to stay connected with the foster parents and update them on upcoming trainings, new information, etc.

Iowa County Department of Social Services also created a Facebook page' to recruit new foster parents. Past and present foster parents are able to "like" the page, which helps spread the word to their friends and family in the community.

The Facebook group is a "closed" group specifically for current Iowa County foster parents. This helps to keep the group small and confidential.

Fond du Lac County Christmas Cards & Calendars; Recruitment Signs
Each year at Christmas time, Tanya Abbott and Sheila Soik send calendars to their foster parents and Christmas cards. The cards are signed by all the workers. The calendar has a little extension on the bottom where they have the dates that checks are mailed each month. There is also a place for them to write their social workers’ phone numbers and their coordinator’s phone number.

They also held a somewhat successful recruitment event in which they had signs made that look like the campaign signs that politicians have when they are running for office. The signs said, "Kids Need You! Foster a Child." with their phone number. They put them in people’s yards and wherever people gave permission. The signs were rather large signs with stakes on them to pound into the ground, and resembled some of the larger signs that politicians have. Tanya and Shiela had them up all around Fond du Lac and received some calls in response to the signs.

Walworth County Media Outreach
Walworth County Foster Care Coordinator Susan Earnest was able to get the local paper in the area to write a great article about one of Walworth County's foster families. After the article ran, Susan received a number of inquiries for becoming a foster family. 

St. Aemilian-Lakeside

St. Aemilian-Lakeside, Inc. sent postcards with magnets attached to 10,000 addresses in southeastern Wisconsin. They feature the recruitment slogan, “Grow Hope. Become a Treatment Foster Parent.” St. Aemilian-Lakeside staff followed up with recruitment posters and events in public places in the same area.

Sheboygan County Retention
Sheboygan County has many long term foster parents. Here are some of the ways the foster care coordinator, Jackie Erdmier, and others in her department recognize foster parents and show them appreciation for what they do.

Jackie had specially designed cards printed to send to foster parents for Foster Parent Appreciation Month in 2009. She asked each worker who had a child in a home to write a short note and sign the card for that individual home. She pointed out that the signing went quickly because the supervisor and foster care coordinator took the cards around for signatures.

Here are e-mails sent from two foster parents in response to the cards:

One parent wrote:
I just want to thank you for the card that you sent. What really impressed me was that you took the time to write it with your hand a little something. In this current world of busyness, people don’t have the time to hand write anything anymore. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated the card with your handwriting on it. I know that you have tons of foster parents and just to think you did that to each one of us, makes me appreciative. Thank you again for caring.

Another wrote:
A few days ago we received a generic letter from I believe, Jim Doyle's office, thanking us for the work that we do as foster parents. We skimmed it and then it went into the garbage. He doesn't know us and is therefore unable to truly appreciate what we do as parents.

In October we will more than likely receive the letter inviting us to the appreciation dinner and in December you'll deliver the poinsettias as a thank you for what we do. As much as Jamie and I appreciate all of that which I've mentioned above, they pale in comparison to what we felt when we received the card from the department yesterday. I can imagine how difficult it must have been for all of those that we have worked with to come up with something to write in the card. It's like being at work and a birthday card being passed around. You don't know what to write and eventually the same thing will get repeated over and over again. But this little card was very special to Jamie and I and we appreciate the fact that the time was taken to fill it out, especially that it was handwritten.

We hope you know how much we love what we do and how much we love the kids that come into our home. And yes, sometimes we butt heads with some of the workers until we get to the point where we understand one another. Please know that we don't do it to be pains in the butt. We only do it because we love these kids. We are glad to be part of such a dynamic group working to better the lives of these kids. As much as you all appreciate what we do, we appreciate what you do.

Other things Sheboygan County staff do for their foster parents, include:

  • At Christmas, Jackie buys nice poinsettias. The supervisor and two workers deliver them personally to each family.
  • The county has dress down day on paydays to raise money for different charities. Employees dress casually in exchange for donations to the designated charity for that payday. Each employee can decide how much they want to donate. Jackie signed foster care up for a payday fund raiser.
  • Giving out a list of suggested items that county employees can donate to foster families, such as:
    • Disposable cameras
    • Scrapbooks/photo albums/ colorful binders for life books
    • Gently used/new smaller size suitcases (several people could go together on this)
    • Binders for foster parents to use as record keepers for each child
    • Money for training tapes or online training gift certificates
    • Books for foster kids – on foster care, etc. or at adoption time for foster parents and adoptive families
    • Frames for family pictures
    • Over $200 was donated, as well as some of the items that were suggested
  • The county has held volunteer appreciations banquets which included foster parents. They were hosted at the civic center with catered food or at restaurants. The parties ran as open houses. This gave the foster parents an opportunity to interact.
  • Jackie has solicited donations from the local water park or other local family friendly places where parents and kids can have fun and visit with one another.
  • Jackie sends a sympathy card to foster parents if there is a death in the family. She regularly reads the paper and looks at the obituaries.
  • She also sends cards celebrating adoptions.
Sheboygan works at celebrating the dedication of their families.

Marinette County Gifts.

Denise Kunze in Marinette County has a budget for small gifts for foster parents. She divides that money between winter holiday gifts and gifts in Foster Care Appreciation Month. She either sends a gift card or a gift ranging in price from $10-$25. This past May, she chose picture frames with family themes along with personalized thank you cards for Foster Care Appreciation Month. Another year, she sent car first aid emergency kits. For the holidays, the gifts were sent accompanied by cards signed by agency staff.

Retention Ideas from Door County

Diana Meenk, Door County’s foster care coordinator, shares some of the activities she does during the year to retain parents. She says that some are commonly used ideas and others are unique to her county.

  • Diana sends birthday cards to foster parents with a note and personal signature. In the note she recognizes some personal trait that makes that person a good foster parent or something special that they have done during the year.
  • A foster parent is recognized each month. She circulates a note with a description of the great things that the foster parent does. All of the staff signs the note.
  • One of Diana’s families hosts a pizza party each April in their home. Pizza and broasted chicken are paid for by the agency. Everyone brings a dish to pass.
  • Diana holds her annual foster parent banquet in October or November. The county buys recognition gifts with family needs in mind that are worth approximately $20. Some gift ideas are popcorn sets, emergency radios, car emergency kits, Door County afghans, and cake pans inscribed with “from the kitchen of and the name of the family” along with agency cookbooks.
  • Diana and her agency actively encourage respite. Foster families do respite for one another. One weekend a month is recommended for all families. Those that are fostering children with more challenging needs are encouraged to take respite weekends twice a month.

As a whole, Door County foster families have a history of longevity. Diana feels these extra efforts reinforce their long time commitments to fostering.

Planting the Foster Care Seed in Washburn County

Lisa Cottrell, Foster Care Coordinator for Washburn County, found success in recruiting foster families in her rural northwestern Wisconsin county by writing letters to local churches. By providing several examples of short announcements about the need for foster families, the church staff chose the announcement for their bulletin and provided this message to congregations for about one month.Lisa had 7 families voice an interest in learning more about providing foster care! As a follow-up, Lisa scheduled an informational meeting for those families. As a result, she has met with two families who have followed through with the licensing process. Lisa is pleased with this result, knowing that the word has spread about the need for foster homes for children.

Retention Counts in Jackson County

The Coordinator for Jackson County has found success in retaining the families that are currently licensed in her rural Western Wisconsin County. There are presently 17 licensed homes. Within the last three years, they have increased the number of homes by over double! They attribute part of this success by expressing appreciation and support of these families from the agency and community. The Jackson County Human Services Department sponsored a picnic and potluck for families to acknowledge Foster Family Month during the month of May. The agency director grilled the meal and also supplied the food. Social work staff attended the event and socialized with the families. One other method of retention occurred when the Coordinator organized a Foster Parent Appreciation Night. The families were served a meal and they all received gift bags. Area businesses donated items. Each foster family received a personalized note written by social work staff to congratulate them and to acknowledge their efforts and work with children. The Coordinator also updates her current foster families of the newly licensed families so that they can be contacted and supported by the experienced families. She believes this really makes them feel a part of the team.

Saturday Harbor Market Recruitment in Kenosha County

Nicole Riedel of Community Impact Programs in Kenosha County has done some successful recruiting at the weekly Saturday Harbor Market. The Harbor Market provides them with a free spot at the market as a non-profit. A lot of people have approached them there and have inquired about foster care. She hands out an average of 7 inquiry packets each Saturday. Of the 14 inquiry packets handed out, she has received 4 completed applications which will most likely lead to licensing.Nicole plans to have information at one more market in Kenosha, and borrowed the Resource Center Live Deeper, Love Longer, Leave Bigger poster board to display at her table. They also plan to have a booth at the Farmer’s Market in Wilmot, a smaller city in their county, so that they can reach those who live in the rural areas of the county as well.