When I think of what it takes to treat our parents with the kind of respect, care and nurturing it comes down to the term “adding value.”

“Adding value” to me means doing one more thing that aids or encourages a foster parent as they care for the children placed in their home.  To add value, we can do something as simple as sending a birthday card, or something more elaborate like providing grief therapy for our parents who are hurting because their first foster child left their home. 

Get out of the Necessity Trap

We can easily get caught in the necessity trap, which is to only give the foster parents the essentials of what they expect or need.  It is a trap because a box gets checked in our system and we conclude that we have done everything that is required of us.  Going above necessity means that we look for gratitude gifts that are unexpected and service actions that would be deeply appreciated by the parents. 

Think of honoring of parents in a newsletter article or giving them a 5-day trip when they have served your agency for 10 years.  You could also increase the number or size of gifts at your Christmas party based on the number of years that the foster parents have served at-risk children.

Doing Something for them that Means Something to them

What you want to look for is the sweet spot when what you do produces a sincere, surprised response from the foster parents.  This may be verbal or non-verbal, but you are looking for some demonstration that what you have done for them is really meaningful and special.

Anyone who has worked in recruitment knows that it takes a lot more money and effort to reach, train and certify new foster parents than it does to retain those you already have.  But that is part of the problem, isn’t it?  We spend a lot of energy finding foster parents and then we get presumptive in the keeping.  Retention of our existing parents happens when we put in the thought and energy to ask, “What would help this particular parent or what would these parents really appreciate?”

Brainstorming for Retention

Good and creative ideas can be relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to put into action.  But good ideas require targeted thinking and brainstorming around the best ways to create the experience of “adding value.”  They will not happen automatically.  This kind of thinking takes an intention to move beyond the necessity trap, focus in on the needs, accomplishments and challenges faced by individual parents, and then dream up ways to “wow” them with appreciation and resources.

Let’s amaze our parents!  Tell them that we appreciate them in ways that surprise and cause their eyes to well up with tears.  What does it take? It takes us caring.

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