Detectives on the Case for Older Foster Children

The below is reproduced from the Chronicle of Social Change with the permission of Fostering Media Connections. It was originally published here.

Would you know how to locate a fourth cousin to find a permanent home for a foster child? It’s not easy.

That’s why St. Louis-based Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition hires private investigators to dig deeper into their cases’ family trees. The result: 70 percent of their youth are matched with a permanent family.

The coalition’s program is called Extreme Recruitment, described as “a race to find permanency for youth using 12 to 20 weeks of intensive recruitment efforts and permanency preparation.” In addition to relying on a private detective, the program also credits weekly team meetings, lower caseloads and concurrent child preparedness for its success.

The Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition employs a detective who is a retired police officer with experience working with kids in juvenile detention. According to Gayle Flavin, the coalition’s director of program implementation, the investigator’s well-developed interpersonal skills plus his passion for helping kids make him an ideal Extreme Recruitment detective.

“The P.I. must be able to speak tactfully with a lot of people from different walks of life,” said Flavin. “Plus the relationship dynamic between the investigator and recruiter is critical for program success. Both need to be in close contact and have regular, open communication.”

During the Extreme Recruitment period, all forms of adoption recruitment occur in parallel, which Flavin says is quite a shift for most case workers. Apart from searching for relatives, the team will also activate recruitment targeted to the general community, specific niche groups (such as the medical community for a special-needs child) and non-relatives like former babysitters and scout leaders.

“Distant relatives are an incredible untapped resource,” Flavin said. “We often deal with relatives who didn’t realize the children were placed in foster care and are angry that they haven’t been contacted already.”

Annually, more than 20,000 children age out of the U.S. foster care system never having been adopted. Without a permanent home, studies show these young adults are more likely to become incarcerated, homeless or require public assistance.

The Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition licenses Extreme Recruitment to other agencies. “Extreme Recruitment is absolutely the best form of recruitment for foster children,” said Jewel Cooper, Program Director at UMFS, a Virginia family service agency that uses the Extreme Recruitment model with the Virginia Department of Social Services.

Cooper’s team is currently exploring 10 viable relatives as placement options for a sibling set whose Guardian Ad Litem advocated that they be separated.

“Our goal has been to find 40 relatives and potential homes per case, and our average so far is 87,” Cooper added. “We are excited about the potential options for permanency we’ve been able to locate for each child through the use of an investigator.”

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