Using data from the National Survey of Current and Former Foster Parents this study examined how foster parents first found out about the need for foster parents (mass media, other foster parents, religious organization, or civic organization) affected foster family service (number of children fostered, years of fostering service, fostering of children with special needs, and families' intent to continue fostering). Respondents who became aware of the need for foster parents through religious organizations fostered for more years; respondents who became aware through mass media fostered for fewer years. How foster families first found out about the need for foster parents did not differentially affect other foster family service measures. Implications for foster parent recruitment and future research are discussed.
Three-fourths of the 568,000 children in foster care live with foster families (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2001). Even with the rise in the use of kinship families, agencies place approximately two-thirds of children in non-kinship families (DHHS, 2001). However, there is a chronic shortage of foster families (DHHS, 1993). This is due in large part to the fact that many certified families quit fostering within the first year of service (Baring-Gould, Essick, Kleinkauf, & Miller, 1983; Casey Family Programs, 2000; Chamberlain, Moreland, & Reid, 1992; Pasztor & Wynne, 1995; Ryan, 1985; U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO], 1989), and many families who continue are not willing to foster children with special needs (DHHS, 1993).
Considerable practice wisdom exists concerning how to recruit foster families (Barbell & Sheikh, 2000; Casey Family Programs, 2000; Pasztor & Wynne, 1995). However, very little research exists concerning recruitment in general, and there is even less regarding how to recruit families willing to foster for a number of years and willing to foster children with special needs. This paucity of research makes it difficult for agencies to know how to recruit foster families effectively, and this is especially problematic because recruitment is time-consuming and expensive (Barbell & Sheikh, 2000; Craig & McNally, 1982; Rodwell & Biggerstaff, 1993).
To help agencies shape recruitment efforts we examine the relationships between how foster parents first became aware of the need for foster families (awareness source) and the type and length of service provided by these families. "Type of service" refers to the number of children fostered and the number of types of special-needs children fostered. "Length of service" refers to years of fostering and the intention to continue fostering.
The effects of awareness source on the type and length of service for subgroups of foster parents are examined to better target recruitment efforts. Specifically, we examine whether the effects of awareness source are different for those who: are European- and African-American; live in rural and non-rural areas; have different motivations to foster; do and do not have previous exposure to fostering; and do and do not have previous exposure to persons with specials needs.
Previous Research on Awareness Source
Recruitment campaigns have two goals: (a) to raise public awareness about fostering and the need for foster families, and (b) to recruit qualified foster parents (DHHS, 1993; Glassberg, 1965; Meltsner, 1984; GAO, 1989). To accomplish these goals agencies primarily use four venues to publicize information about foster care and the need for family foster homes: (a) mass media (newspapers, television, radio, billboards, printed material), (b) personal contacts with foster parents, (c) churches, and (d) community or civic organizations. It is important to note that researchers have not always distinguished awareness source from other factors that had a determining influence on the decision to foster. …