Attracting and Keeping Carers - August 2013

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I seem to have been on a one man mission of late to share the virtues of becoming a foster carer with any friends or members of family who I think would be suitable… and are prepared to listen!

Like anyone immersed in a specific area, it’s always refreshing to go back to basics to explain what fostering is, that it’s not the same as adoption, and who can actually foster. Even my small straw poll confirms the findings from the Kindred research that fostering is awash with myths and, although I disagree with their recommendations for how, we and fostering services across the UK need to help bust them.

Our own research is continuing at pace; this month’s blog provides a summary of where we are and the milestones we have coming up.

Along with the usual updates, I’ve included a couple of controversial news items that have cropped up in the north west and north east this month. Foster carers have provided their comments and I’d be interested to hear your views on each.

The topic for discussion this month is how to address misconceptions and tackle perceived barriers of fostering and we’ve decided to leave the discussion forum open continuously, so please do drop by whenever to leave a question or make your point. We'll be live to answer questions at 2.00pm on Friday 30 August. I’d really appreciate your help to get this thing going.

Project update

The benchmarking survey is now closed and the responses are being collated. Thank you to all of the 40 plus fostering services that completed the survey, far exceeding our expectation.

The results from the benchmark, coupled with the responses from our national foster carer recruitment survey, will now be used to form a shortlist for the 15 authorities that receive support this year. Those chosen will be announced in my next blog.

Not to lose momentum, our final survey of this phase is up and running. Our employer survey for foster carers across the UK aims to find out their experience of combining paid employment and fostering, and whether they felt under pressure to quit their job or reduce their hours in order to become a foster carer.

The results will help the Fostering Network identify organisations with foster-family-friendly policies and help us better support foster carers. I’d be most grateful if you could forward the link to the survey to your foster carers to encourage them to complete it: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/foster_carer_employer_survey

Welsh foster carer motivations and values

We’re pleased to announce that the Fostering Network has been awarded funds from the Welsh government to carry out research on the motivations and values of foster carers in Wales.

Local authority fostering services in Wales have been contacted asking for their support in sending the survey to foster carers, and the Fostering Network has emailed those foster carers on our database direct to ask them to complete it. Your support in giving foster carers an extra prompt would be greatly appreciated.

The findings, which will support your fostering services recruitment and retention activity, will be disseminated through a report and two events held in the new year.

Devon Council building in-house provision...

In an age of public sector transparency, frequent FOI requests and justifications on spend, it was very interesting to read an article on Devon County Council this week about the measures they are considering to reshape its fostering service.

The Council is considering increased allowances for carers, specialist training for carers able to care for more challenging children and young people, more dedicated council staff to provide flexible support and an increase in birthday and Christmas allowances.

What caught my eye was the explicit figure of £4million spent on the independent sector and that ‘with less reliance on the private sector’, the Council says it could be saving millions.

Now, when good commissioning arrangements are in place and the independent provider can supply the foster carers who are the right match for the child when the local authority can’t, this is when the system can work well.

However, this article is clearly trying to evoke a reaction in the reader on the expense from the public purse, which therefore makes for an interesting call to action.

...Whilst Leeds Council also look to reduce external spend

Like the proverbial buses, another story similar to Devon’s emerged from Leeds this week.

The ‘hook’ concerns an increase in foster carer allowances to the Fostering Network’s recommended minimum with the aim to improve retention rates but again to reduce the reliance on the independent sector.

The report shows an increase of spend by over £7million to £12.46 million from 2011/12 to 2012/13. Again, this figure doesn’t include any context, such as an increase in the number of children coming into care, the specialisms required for foster carers and crucially, the stability of these placements.

Although not the focus of the report, the inclusion of these figures is likely to register with the reader.

Liverpool council to repay thousands

Allowances appear to have been dominating the fostering news this month. A report by the Ombudsman found that Liverpool City Council has been underpaying family and friends foster carers and those caring for 0 to 4sm for a number of years as they were classified as providing care under a private arrangement.

As the Fostering Network’s Helen Keaney says, credit to the authority for swiftly rectifying the issue, however this is an expensive oversight. If the total repayments average just half of what the complainant was recompensed for, the final cost of reimbursing everyone could be almost £2 million.

When such cases come to light, often a number of others are uncovered so do make sure that all your foster carers are paid the correct allowance.

Positive teenager story from Kirklees

Picking up the theme of busting myths, this is a fantastic story from Kirklees’ fostering service.

As you will no doubt be aware, children in foster care are often perceived as ‘problem children’, and given their start in life, many do have specific issues and difficulties.

Many also don’t achieve academically, with 20 per cent of children who have been in care leaving school without any qualifications.

So when an example like this one in Kirklees comes along, do take the opportunity to showcase a success story, both individually for the child in care but also the foster family’s involvement and relationship to provide the stable environment to allow the young person to achieve their potential.

Blue Sky Fostering celebrate and educate

As well as the myths around who can foster, from personal experience there is a lot of misunderstanding about the types of children who come into foster care.

The need for parent and baby foster carers can come as quite a shock to people who have little understanding of the complexities of foster care.

In this article, Blue Sky Fostering have successfully combined the opportunity to celebrate and showcase the work of one of their foster carers, explaining the impact on birth children, as well as introducing a type of foster care that not many people will be familiar with. 

Controversial advertising debate

Fostering services can be criticised for the amount of money that’s perceived to be spent on foster carer recruitment, but rarely does the message invoke such controversy.

BBC Look North recently covered a story on a flyer distributed by Parallel Parenting that landed on the doorstep of one individual struggling with the ‘bedroom tax’ for whom it sparked outrage.

The headline read "Avoid the bedroom tax. Help change a child's life. Become a foster carer".

The Fostering Network successfully campaigned for foster carers’ spare room to be exempt from the increased charge. However it is debatable as to whether this should be part of the marketing pitch to attract new foster carers. Clearly, the fostering service will be the first to acknowledge that the assessment process will identify those people who are suitable to foster and by gaining regional television coverage, irrespective of the circumstances, have brought fostering to the fore.

Financial gain, however, is clearly not a motivator associated with foster care and the Fostering Network encourages fostering services to aim to recruit fostering families that can provide a loving, and stable family environment for a vulnerable child.

Is this a marketing message your fostering service would use? I’d be keen to hear your views…

IN FOCUS

The Government’s recently commissioned research into Understanding attitudes, motivations and barriers to adoption and fostering uncovered the following five barriers as to fostering:

  1. How it might affect relationships with children that they may already have
  2. Fear that they won’t be accepted by the child that they foster
  3. Whether they have time to be a foster carer
  4. Concerns about confidentiality eg the fostered child’s family wanting to make contact
  5. Fear of not being approved to become a foster carer by the fostering agency

The first of these is covered above in the Blue Sky example, but it’s also really important to hear the views of the children themselves too. Richmond Council addressed this by putting together a nice video of two birth daughters taking it in turns to pull questions out of a hat as prompts to talk about their fostering experiences, crucially without a parent involved to influence the responses.

Not being accepted by a fostered child is a difficult fear to allay in a bus stop advertisement or in a newspaper advert. As in the above example, this is an opportunity to create a new page on your website, a blog post or even a separate flyer to include in your information packs to explain the matching process and the support and training your fostering service provides to foster carers, but being realistic that like in all relationships, the chemistry might not be there(!).

Some people’s lifestyles will mean that fostering isn’t right for them as they won’t be able to dedicate the time and commitment to a fostered child. When it comes to combining another job with fostering, each service will have their own policies. However the initial feedback from our employment survey shows over a third combine fostering with paid employment.

Point 4 is an interesting one as facilitating contact is a significant element of the role of a foster carer. Few fostering service websites I’ve seen acknowledge this fact in any detail. Manchester council goes some way to explaining the arrangement, but this is a big area of concern and therefore important to convey to prospective foster carers why contact is important and how they will be supported to enable it.

The final point tallies with individuals from the research considered likely to foster, who identified a clearer understanding of what fostering services are looking for from potential foster carers and clearer information about how the application process works as motivators to becoming foster carers.

Like any job role, it is important to be open from the start of the criteria your fostering service is expecting a foster carer to fulfil, and the type of children who need to be placed. To combat the fear and anxiety of not being considered a worthy candidate to foster, consider empowering messages throughout your campaign material. A number of fostering services include ‘You can foster’ and why you should foster with your agency, but do give some thought to including a line on why you can foster, picking out the characteristics of a good foster carer to enable the viewer to make the connection with themselves.

PS

All about fostering contains essential information about what fostering involves and the application process, alongside real-life stories and quotes from foster carers, young people and birth families. It's a great publication to send out to your enquirers, take to events and make available in other venues. With a choice of four covers to help target the foster carers you need, this neutrally branded publication can cost from as little as 75p a copy.

You can order your copies from the resources section of our website