In March 2008, the Missouri Children's Division (MCD) noted that the teen adoption program in St. Louis seemed to take an extremely long time to achieve permanency for youth in care. MCD realized that the typical efforts to find family members led to instability in the family. Due to these concerns, a coalition of partners developed an initiative to increase adoption, permanency, and reconnections. The Children's Bureau awarded a grant to the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition (FACC), Children's Home Services, and the Adoption Exchange, to deliver direct service through the Extreme Recruitment grant with the assistance of several other partnering organizations. The resulting Extreme Recruitment project is a collaborative effort among agencies to increase adoption, permanency, and reconnection.
Extreme Recruitment (ER) is a 12-20 week individualized recruitment effort that includes preparing youth for permanency; conducting a diligent search to reconnect youth with kin; and achieving permanency through concurrent general, targeted, and child-specific recruitment. It consists of public and private partnerships, including MCD staff, contracted case management agencies, and contracted providers of foster/adopt training and post-permanency support services. The grant includes the following components, such as providing services to unite the family; supporting the family as a whole unit; working with parents to understand and address behaviors and cope with stress; establishing a sense of unity among family members; and allowing families to feel a sense of community and comfort.
The program adheres to the following 10 principles in its diligent recruitment efforts:
- No linear thinking. We try ALL recruitment tools at once. General recruitment is reactive; Extreme Recruitment is proactive.
- Get out from behind the desk! Diligent search is done in the field, talking to relatives. It is not done in front of a computer.
- Don't take "no" for an answer. Teenagers may say that they don't want to be adopted. Although they may not want to be adopted by a stranger, they DO want to be reconnected with their biological family. Youth never stop longing to get back to their birth families.
- The number of strangers we can recruit is finite; the number of relatives we can recruit is infinite. The average American has 300 living relatives.
- Biological family members are more likely to adopt kids with the toughest challenges. Family may have an advantage by already knowing the youth's history and needs.
- Weekly meetings are necessary. Too much happens with Extreme Recruitment from week to week. If not, then the team is not trying hard enough.
- Consensus drives Extreme Recruitment, not 100 percent agreement. Hear everyone's viewpoint. If unanimous agreement is not reachable, go with the majority.
- Pay attention to educational issues. The youth and the preadoptive family have enough on their plates. Get the youth's educational concerns taken care of BEFORE the child is placed.
- Build trust with the family. The youth's biological family has suffered incredible loss and grief. Honor it. Apologize to the family for the hurt that the child welfare system has caused.
- It's not just about permanency; it's about identity. Long-term foster care strips youth of their identity. Extreme Recruitment gives it back.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Missouri Extreme Recruitment" (https://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/index.cfm?event=website.viewArticles&issueid=136&articleID=3545&keywords=Missouri).