Open Fostering: It's Time to Make Fostering Inclusive

September 24th, 2020

By the HASS Foster Working Group and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group

In our attempts to recruit as many fosters as possible, many of us haven’t paused to consider whether our foster base is as diverse as our local communities, or whether large segments of our communities are unaware of our need for foster caregivers. Best practice recommendations regarding open adoptions have been widespread for almost 10 years, but the conversation around open fostering is just beginning.

If we want to better serve our communities’ needs when it comes to animal services, we need to find ways to engage all of our communities. Fostering pets gives people the opportunity to experience the human-animal bond and become involved with your organization in a way that is rewarding for both themselves and the pets they care for.

Now is the time to make foster care at your organization more inclusive and truly reflective of your entire community!

Here are 5 easy changes your organization can make to expand and diversify your foster base:

Analyze your location data.

What zip codes represent the majority of your foster families? Which zip codes in your community are under-represented in your foster family population and how can you extend the invitation to people in those areas? Make an effort to put pets into foster in the communities where they currently live via finder-to-foster programs. Ask finders if they have neighbors or know others who might want to foster, too.

Remove barriers.

The short version: barriers don't work, ditch them. Barriers marginalize people, and can perpetuate discrimination in your organization, regardless of the intent. Practice and create a culture of inclusivity by trying to match people to pets. If someone wants to help, try to find your way to a YES.

What can you do?

  • Watch the CARE PSA about adoption barriers, and apply the same idea to fosters. Share this important PSA throughout your department and your organization. It’s awesome!
  • Are there questions on your interest form, that always mean no? Why is the question there? How did it get there? Is it useful, or is it holding you back?
  • Redesign the foster onboarding process to make it as simple and user-friendly as your adoption processes. Think about who within your organization would pass through your onboarding process. If the answer is no one, or a few, it’s time to scrutinize your onboarding process, and start making improvements.
  • Take a hard look at the process for becoming a foster caregiver for your organization. Instead of using language like ‘application,’ try to use language that connotes a conversation, like ‘inquiry’ or ‘interest form.’
  • Do requirements for becoming a foster or your onboarding process result in less people being able to help? Remove blanket policies such as requiring fosters to live in particular types of homes, attend in-person training during work hours, or bring all family members including pets for mandatory meet and greets.
  • Is there only one way to sign up to foster? Do you need a computer? Is there a helpline? Having multiple avenues to sign up to help can allow you to be more inclusive.
  • What language(s) are your resources available in? If your community has a high number of people who speak Spanish but you have few staff who can, in addition to hiring new staff who are bilingual, recruit volunteers, or find a translator service who can help with the translation of documents such as foster agreements and mentoring new foster caregivers.
  • Make people feel welcome and celebrate anyone who wants to help you save more animal lives.

Provide support to fosters in areas where your organization is currently lacking foster caregivers. Allow people to foster the same day they sign up. Be kind and look for ways to say yes– remember the privileged position from which you speak. What changes can you make to be more inclusive?

Recruit thoughtfully.

In addition to your tried-and-true recruitment methods, consider other platforms and techniques that can help you reach new local audiences. In addition to Facebook and Instagram, try recruiting on Craigslist. When your animal protection team is working in areas where you’re recruiting few fosters, encourage them to reach out to those they meet or bring foster recruitment fliers they can post on community boards. Partner with local agencies to recruit fosters – assisted living, memory care, community centers, religious organizations, parks and more. Offer marketing, media and diversity representation. Our foster pets are not one dimensional and neither should our representation be.

Support pets in foster.

In these challenging economic times, having to provide food and other necessities for a foster pet can be a deciding factor in whether a person is able to sign up. Providing essential items for fosters doesn’t necessarily mean funding a large budget. Those who cannot foster may be willing to donate needed items in-kind or through your Amazon wish list, which you can in turn provide to people wanting to foster. Chat with local pet stores to see if they’re able to donate food or other provisions. Start a subsidized foster program for more challenging pets to provide financial incentives for foster caregivers.

Be flexible.

Create short-term options for those who are unable to foster long-term but would like to help. Make foster pick up and drop off hours as accommodating as possible. If you require mandatory training, make sure it’s offered at varying times- or anytime!- so you don’t inadvertently screen out potential fosters. Have volunteers or staff assist with dropping off and picking up foster pets, supplies and medications. Hold foster training in high-intake zip codes and bring pets to be fostered the same day.

Expanding your reach within your community will create a strong foster program. A strong and thriving foster program is both animal and people focused; including everyone in your community will help build not only community engagement, but preserve the human-animal bond for all.

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