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Ideas from the Field


These ideas and best practies were shared with our staff and consultants or identified in the course of our work with tribes. The ideas come from tribes that vary in size, location, and other key factors. We recognize that some of the ideas may not fit your tribe directly or might need to be modified to be useful for your tribe.

Establish a government-to-government agreement with a state

Creating—or updating—a government-to-government agreement with a state can help tribes ensure that there are clear arrangements and guidelines for how Native American children and families will be served. Cherokee Nation, located in Oklahoma, and the state of Oklahoma have a state–tribal agreement that includes the following provisions:
•    The state accepts the tribe’s home studies and training.
•    Native resource families are reimbursed at the same rate as state-licensed homes.
•    The state and tribe collaborate when families are dually certified by the tribe and state.

Additionally, staff from Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma child welfare agencies communicate and partner around foster care issues and recruitment of Native American resource families through work groups and regional meetings and work together to plan recruitment events.

Cherokee Nation also works with Cherokee families who reside in other states and want to become foster homes for the tribe. The process follows these steps:

  • Cherokee families living out of state first must be certified with their state.
  • Once certified, they contact the Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare Department and Cherokee Nation obtains releases from families to receive the completed home studies and paperwork.
  • Cherokee Nation certification staff contact the families to complete an addendum and the family is added to the Cherokee Nation family registry.
  • The Cherokee Nation out-of-district unit is notified that a certified resource family is available in the state of residence of the family. The unit works closely with other states and will not utilize any placement without first going through the state of residence of the family. For example, if a Cherokee child comes into care in another state, that state will contact the Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare Department to inquire about Cherokee homes in their state. Cherokee Nation will give them the names and addresses of approved families so that they can determine if they are feasible placements, and if so, reach out to them.

Strengthen agency relationships with resource families

Having a strong relationship with resource families helps ensure that tribal child welfare agencies will continue to have a pool of families available to meet the needs of children in foster care. Tribal child welfare agencies can support their staff in developing strong relationships with resource families and demonstrating that the agency values resource families’ knowledge and experience and is working to meet their needs. Tribal child welfare agencies have used the following strategies to strengthen agency relationships with resource families:

  • Cross-train all staff to assist with any job in the agency, preparing every staff member to assist resource families as needed.
  • Invite resource families to help coordinate foster parent events or agency events (presentations, recruitment events, trainings) and make sure resource families understand that they can ask for the support they need as they assist with these efforts.
  • Invite resource families to provide input about foster parent training topics.
  • Establish a policy allowing tribal employees who are interested in becoming foster parents to attend foster parenting training during work time (after acquiring approval from their supervisor). By providing this concrete support to staff, the tribe demonstrates that they encourage and value tribal employees serving as resource families and understand the importance of training.
  • Develop a cultural connections program that involves child welfare staff, resource families, children and youth in care, birth families, and tribal elders. As part of this program, hold cultural teaching events frequently so children in foster care can continue to bond with their biological families and resource families can connect with birth families and learn more about the family’s culture. By assisting and engaging with the group, staff strengthen their relationships with resource families, and resource families better understand the role of staff members within the agency, including how their role pertains to the child welfare program.

Strengthen community partnerships

Developing and supporting partnerships with multiple parts of the community can help tribal child welfare agencies increase awareness about foster care and about the need for resource families for children in foster care. Tribal child welfare agencies can partner with communities in a variety of ways. The following are a few examples.

  • Offer a recruitment presentation as an activity at a local school family night.
  • Set up a booth at a county community fair.
  • Partner with churches that provide materials for events or engage their congregations in donating toys and necessities for children.
  • Partner with an agency that gives back to the community by providing families with food, clothing, blankets, and home repairs.
  • Partner with a Native American agency in an urban community to provide children who live in out-of-home care off the reservation with culturally specific services, including schooling, cultural teachings, sports, and activities.

Another example is to partner with a community organization to provide support services to children, youth, and families. One example of this approach is the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA). NAYA is a nonprofit organization that builds connections between and among youth, their tribe, and other Native people to help youth and families develop strengths and resiliency. NAYA’s Foster Care Support Program provides the following services to children, youth, and families: sibling and family visits, gatherings, and activities; coaching; training; and educational support. Additionally, NAYA is developing the Generations Project that will provide intergenerational housing. The Oregon Department of Human Services and tribal child welfare agencies refer children and families to the program and co-manage the cases of children and youth who engage in NAYA services. More information about this program is available in our publication, Support Matters: Lessons from the Field on Services for Adoptive, Foster, and Kinship Care Families, along with profiles of 30 other support programs.

Use data tools to inform recruitment of families for Native American children

States and tribes can work together to compile and analyze data on Native American children in foster care—whether in state or tribal child welfare systems—to guide recruitment efforts. One approach is to map where Native American children in your foster care system come from when they enter foster care, noting whether the children were on reservation or off reservation so you can target your recruitment and family support efforts to the appropriate geographic areas. Another option is to share data across a state and tribe to be part of an ICWA database where tribes can access data such as the number of Native American children in foster care, how many come from a specific tribe, and where their home of removal is. The data can be used to inform recruitment planning and targeting communities for recruitment, as well as in conversations with communities about their needs.

Conduct inclusive recruitment planning

Developing a recruitment plan in collaboration with multiple stakeholders—including staff, community members, elders, and partners from other organizations—can help your agency set clear priorities and action steps that reflect the knowledge and creativity of an inclusive group of people. Use your available data, information about what recruitment strategies have been effective in the past, creative ideas about new ways to engage the community, and other relevant information to develop a data-driven recruitment plan that provides clear direction for when and how your agency will conduct recruitment efforts.

As you develop a process for creating your recruitment plan, consider using resources from the NRCDR that are designed to support inclusive, strategic recruitment planning. You can use the NRCDR’s Diligent Recruitment Navigator and Tribal Supplement to the Diligent Recruitment Navigator (111 KB PDF) as planning tools to support you in this process.

As an example, one tribe is using the Diligent Recruitment Navigator to enhance the process of developing their recruitment plan. Although they are still gathering data, the Diligent Recruitment Navigator gave them a starting point and helped them pinpoint the types of recruitment strategies that best fit the needs of the children in custody. They have identified the need to increase the number of certified foster homes and also adoptive homes for older children, and they are addressing this need by targeting their tribal communities and gathering data to ensure that they are recruiting in the geographical areas from which their children are removed. They believe they will experience fewer placement disruptions and faster reunifications if they are able to keep children in their communities of origin.

Explore Facebook as a social media tool for recruiting and supporting native resource families

As tribes explore and determine whether social media might be an effective tool in connecting with resource families, it may be helpful to explore Facebook. Some tribes have found Facebook to be a useful tool, providing a network for dialogue, sharing information, announcing upcoming events, and even connecting families for playdates and respite care. Here are a few examples of how tribal child welfare systems have used Facebook.

  • Ponca Tribe of Nebraska established a private/closed Facebook group for resource families who have completed or are in the process of completing pre-service training. This Facebook group provides opportunities for families to network and dialogue, share information about private agencies and childcare providers, and even set up playdates and find respite providers. Additionally, the agency can post/share tribally-sponsored activities, cultural activities, events, articles, resources, and content related to foster care.
  • Santee Sioux Tribe established a private/closed Facebook group for resource families for posting information about events, training opportunities, and resources (including links to other organizations) to support resource families. Additionally, families in the group are invited to post questions or situations that they want help with so that the group can provide support.
  • Cherokee Nation developed a public Facebook page, “Homes for Cherokee Kids,” that the tribe uses for recruiting resource families and sharing information about events taking place in Indian country. Cherokee Nation receives many prospective parent inquiries through the Facebook page and views Facebook to be a valuable recruitment tool.
  • Oklahoma tribes developed a Circle of Keepers Facebook page for recruiting foster and adoptive homes, along with the Circle of Keepers—Foster Family Training for foster and adoptive families who are caring for Native American children and youth.

Addressing social media considerations
While social media presents tribal child welfare agencies with new opportunities and ways to recruit, develop, and support families, it may also raise some questions, considerations, or concerns. Several tribes have shared approaches to engaging the support of their tribal council, addressing safety and privacy concerns of children, youth, and families, and managing the Facebook group effectively. 

  • Cherokee Nation’s pre-service training for resource families addresses social media use and confidentiality.
  • Cherokee Nation’s Facebook page provides information to the public about the policy for posting comment—described in the “terms of use” section—letting people know that the tribe welcomes comments and also outlines the type of comments that will be deleted.
  • Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians developed a social media protection plan to guard the safety and privacy of children and youth in care and their biological families. This plan provides guidance to resource families on their social media use as it relates to children in their care. The resource family and the family safety worker both sign the plan.
  • In order to engage the support of their tribal council, Ponca Tribe made a formal request to the council that included justification and information about why and how they wanted to use social media.
  • The only administrators for Ponca Tribe’s Facebook group are the tribal communication specialist and the recruiter/trainer. They shared that limiting the number of administrators helps them control the group membership and minimize duplicate posts.

For more information, see our materials on using social media in recruitment.

Additional ideas

  • Recruit at tribal health fairs, Pow-Wow, and tribal social and cultural events. These recruitment efforts can involve sharing information about foster care and being a foster parent, as well as providing information about Native children and youth within the community in need of foster placements.
  • Use a tribal radio station to broadcast information about Indian child welfare programs or run Public Service Announcements (PSAs). The radio broadcasts and PSAs can help inform the community about foster care and recruit foster parents.
  • Use Round Table discussions, with facilitators or mediators, to plan or develop areas of focus and strategies for recruitment, retention, or both.
  • Coordinate with other tribes before discussions with the state. Explore whether it would be helpful to meet with other tribes in your area to discuss shared goals, concerns, and topics to raise with staff at the state agency. Some tribes find it useful to coordinate with other tribes on their collective needs and discussion topics as a way to strengthen their messaging while supporting their individual sovereignty when meeting with the staff from the state.

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