Of the approximately 428,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system, about 112,000 are currently waiting for adoptive families. AdoptUSKids is a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau that provides tools and technical assistance to help child welfare systems connect children in foster care with families, and is operated through a cooperative agreement between the Children’s Bureau and the Adoption Exchange Association.
The AdoptUSKids mission is to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and assist U.S. states, territories, and tribes to recruit, engage, develop and support foster and adoptive families. AdoptUSKids collaborating partners include the Adoption Exchange Association, The Adoption Exchange, Inc., Northwest Resource Associates, North American Council on Adoptable Children, Spaulding for Children and The University of Texas at Austin.
Ruth McRoy, who has been working with the AdoptUSKids project since 2002, leads the research and evaluation team at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. The team currently includes includes Susan Ayers-Lopez, Lauren Alper, Tricia Cody, Noelle Suntheimer, and Michelle Steinley-Bumgarner.
Initially, McRoy’s research team conducted two nationwide studies, mandated by the Children’s Health Act of 2000, to identify barriers to adoption and factors that lead to favorable long-term outcomes. In October 2007, the team became the evaluator of AdoptUSKids. Since then, they have conducted process and outcome evaluations using qualitative and quantitative methods to determine the effectiveness of program activities and the extent to which they have been implemented with fidelity. In October 2017, Ruth McRoy’s research and evaluation team was re-contracted to evaluate the AdoptUSKids initiative for the period of 2017-2022.
Online and over the phone, AdoptUSKids provides information and resources to families exploring foster care and adoption. Families who register on the AdoptUSKids site can search the national photolisting of more than 5,000 children and youth in foster care who are available for adoption and make inquiries directly to the children’s caseworkers. They also can connect with a vibrant community through AdoptUSKids’ Facebook page and Twitter channels. Registered professionals use the AdoptUSKids site to search for prospective adoptive families for children on their caseloads and to access tools and resources to help them manage caseloads and stay informed about current practices. AdoptUSKids also serves states, tribes, and territories through the development and dissemination of information about adoptive and foster family support activities, as well as by providing capacity building services for the recruitment, support and development of foster and adoptive families. Additionally, beginning in the 2017-2022 grant period, AdoptUSKids will be conducting the Minority Professional Leadership Development program which will promote professional leadership development of minorities in the adoption field.
Through an additional cooperative agreement with the Children’s Bureau and in partnership with the Ad Council, a national adoption recruitment campaign raises awareness of the need for families for children in foster care. Since 2004, this campaign has encouraged the adoption of children from foster care by consistently delivering the message that “you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.” The latest series of PSAs in this award-winning campaign encourage prospective parents to consider adopting older teens from foster care, as older youth have lower adoption rates than younger children, and they often wait longer to be adopted. Using a humorous angle to communicate the seemingly challenging task of adopting a child from foster care, the PSAs reassure prospective parents that even if they are not “perfect,” they can provide the stability and security that older youth in foster care need and deserve.
The team works collaboratively across all AdoptUSKids project components, maintaining a high level of rigor, and providing data and analyses to assist with programming refinements. Timely provision of evaluation data and information has been accomplished through: virtual presentations to the AUSK leadership team, review and discussion between evaluation and partners regarding major reports, bi-annual reporting of performance outcomes to the Children’s Bureau, and response to additional data requests. Findings from evaluation activities assess the impact and effectiveness of project activities and assist in creating links between those data and ways it can support quality improvement of all services offered by AdoptUSKids.