Foster Caregiver Turnover Study

June 30, 2017

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: University of North Carolina
Investigator(s): Steven Rogelberg and Lea Williams
Grant Amount: $55,000
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte evaluated reasons why foster caregivers stop volunteering and ways to retain them. The top five factors were: needing time to focus solely on one's own pets, adopting too many of the animals themselves (e.g. "too many foster fails"), schedule not compatible with foster caregiving, personal issues (e.g. age/health-related issues, taking care of loved ones, divorce, etc.) and living situation not compatible with foster caregiving. Factors that can improve foster caregiver retention include: improved communication, offer more training opportunities, assistance with finding homes for pets, offer more flexible fostering arrangements, more opportunities for caregivers to provide input, and increase recognition/appreciation.

Objective(s)

To define reasons that foster caregivers stop volunteering; to categorize foster caregivers into "types" (based on their level of service) to compare reasons for leaving across the different groups; and to identify effective strategies for volunteer retention (e.g., identifying if there anything organizations can do to prevent caregivers from leaving).

Methods

The four parts of this project included the following: a literature search, pilot survey, phone interviews and a comprehensive final survey. Overall, over 4,800 people were either surveyed or interviewed as part of this project.

Results

Current and former foster caregivers were asked to indicate how important the factors were/would be in their decision to stop fostering. Though there were some differences among groups, the top 5 reasons were:

  • Needing time to focus solely on one's own pets
  • Adopting too many of the animals themselves (i.e., "too many foster fails")
  • Schedule not compatible with foster caregiving
  • Personal issues (i.e., age/health-related issues, taking care of loved ones, divorce, etc.)
  • Living situation not compatible with foster caregiving

Other factors from the survey that were significantly related to whether a caregiver would continue fostering or not are:

  • Feeling supported and appreciated by the organization
  • Feeling that one's input matters
  • Having training about basic handling, behavioral issues and healthcare/medical issues.

To address some of the top reasons for turnover, organizations should consider implementing foster teams. Foster teams are groups of volunteers who work together to coordinate and implement all aspects of the care, marketing, and adoption of foster animals. In the survey, over 80% of caregivers agreed/strongly agreed that the foster team concept could work well for some people/organizations. The foster team concept was most attractive to ex-foster caregivers and foster caregivers taking a break from fostering.Other factors that can improve foster caregiver retention include:

  • Improve communication
  • Offer more training opportunities
  • Assistance with finding homes for pets
  • Offer more flexible fostering arrangements
  • More opportunities for foster caregivers to provide input
  • Increase recognition/appreciation

Conclusions

The results from this study allow shelters and rescues to understand some of the reasons for foster caregiver turnover and buffers they can put in place to reduce turnover.

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