Here are tips for putting together a foster program in which you train and empower your foster families to handle adoptions for the animals they foster.
Plan Your Work and Work the Plan
For this program to succeed, the experience has to be a good one for the animals, your staff, and your foster volunteers. When you're well prepared and organized, you can:
- Effectively support your volunteers,
- Readily recruit more volunteers, and
- Enable your foster volunteers to be successful at finding appropriate homes for their foster animals.
Before you invite volunteers to act as adoption agents it's a good idea to think through:
- Your goals and expectations for the program
- What the foster families and the animals will need from you to be successful, and whether you can provide what they will need
Recruiting, Mentoring, and Training
- What categories of animals are appropriate for this program? (Overwhelmed with underage kittens, "Florida brown dogs", teenage cats, pregnant females? If you know what you have in abundance, you might start recruiting fosters as adoption agents for these populations first.)
- Are your adoption policies helping or hindering adoptions? Do you have policies that a volunteer can implement from their home? Is it time for some updating?
- Recruiting foster providers who also want to act as adoption agents may be a different process from finding "regular" foster homes. Will your agency accommodate both?
- What kind of training will you offer foster families? Foster providers need and deserve training to represent your organization well, be customer friendly and facilitate adoptions.
- Do you have a current foster manual with the all the right stuff: how to care for the animal (e.g. neonates, animals recovering from injuries, etc.), who to call, where to go with questions or emergencies?
- How will these foster homes will be mentored? Seattle Animal Shelter uses volunteer "case managers" to ensure no one gets lost in the system. Case managers see that foster providers get the support they need and are taking advantage of opportunities to showcase their foster animal in the community and at events.
- What other kinds of support will you provide to get these animals adopted? For example, how do you currently profile animals in foster care on your site…do you?
Making the Tough Calls
- Who pays for what? Spell it out, preferably in your foster manual, but definitely in writing. Be clear and upfront about what costs the shelter assumes and what the foster family is responsible for.
- How will you respond to emergencies? What about problems with an adoption or complaints from an adopter?
- Who's "the decider" when determining the resources dedicated to treatment of significant health or behavioral situations? A decision tree is best crafted well before it's needed.
Educating Your Stakeholders
Talk to your staff, board and volunteers and explain that
- In this program not only do fosters provide a temporary home, they find the adoptive home for their foster animal too!
- These foster providers are empowered to do an adoption from start to finish.
- Animals won't return to the shelter for adoption, thereby freeing up cage space, staff time and resources to help more animals.