Attracting and Keeping Carers - August 2014

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Next month sees one of the greatest migrations of young people across the UK as hundreds of thousands leave home to begin their university education. Empty nest syndrome is well documented, and many foster carers reference a quiet home, missing the hubbub of young people and, genuine quote, "someone to make me a nice cup of tea" as a reason to consider fostering!

Many may not be willing or ready to immediately offer their child's room as a fostering placement. But this might be an opportunity to seed the idea of fostering with a group of people skilled in caring for older children. If you've had particular success of such campaigns, I'd be keen to hear from you: james.foyle@fostering.net

August has been relatively quiet, and I hope many of you have been able to take the time to enjoy a break. There are still a few nice examples of recruitment campaigns to report and an update on The Fostering Network's Department for Education funded project below. This months IN FOCUS tackles some of the what and why of Twitter and how it can be used by fostering services. 

Northampton teen becomes the voice of new campaign

A great new initiative by Northampton Council sees Stephen, a young man who has lived with his foster family for six years, become the voice of their new campaign, Room for Me?

Stephen talks openly about his experiences and his words will connect with many children in care and foster carers. “I didn’t need a parent, I already had parents; I needed a role model” carries such weight coming from a young person who has been in foster care and can inspire new people to consider becoming a role model for older children like him. The positive impact on his educational attainment is also a powerful statement of how beneficial good foster care can be.

I do hope that, as well as the fostering service, foster carers will be in attendance at the various events held to share their positive stories and lend support…

Diary of trainee social worker foster carer

On my travels I have come across a few people who combine fostering with one agency and working as a social worker for another. Being able to see both sides of the fence has its advantages but as this anonymous trainee social worker shares in their work diary via Community Care, striking a balance and having the energy for both roles is a challenge.

An element of our work with our partner iMPOWER involves recognising the value of the team and the ultimate common aim of providing a young person in foster care with the support, security and stability they need. This account takes the reader through the day-to-day responsibilities of being a foster carer and their studies, giving a window into the reality of performing both tasks.

Recruiting foster carers for long-term placements

© Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Gail Osborne with IsaacOften services look within their current cohort as a first port of call to identify a foster carer who may be in a position to broaden their approval range or provide care for a child on a long-term basis. But there may come a point when demand necessitates a campaign to try and recruit new foster carers to provide long-term placements, as Kirklees has recently done.

The article picks out so many of the positives and benefits of a long-term foster placement; even for a three-year-old boy, the realisation that he now had a permanent home enabled him to trust his foster carer and “be himself with us because we are his family”.

I’ve heard the phrase ‘accidental carer’ a couple of times recently and there are parallels here with the foster carer initially fostering Jacob on a short-term basis before being asked to foster permanently. Although not the most robust strategy, I would be interested to know how many of your foster carers have transitioned from short to long-term foster care due to a specific placement – email me at james.foyle@fostering.net 

Department for Education recruitment project update

Year two of the project is well underway. Thank you to those of you who have flagged the national foster carer recruitment survey to foster carers who have been approved to foster since 1 April 2013. The results will enable us to compare the values and motivations of foster carers who completed last year’s survey to identify any differences in the type of people coming forward to foster. The report containing the findings will be released later in the year.

The benchmark survey for local authority fostering services in England is now closed. We are now in the process of analysing the data which will inform our selection criteria for the 11 authorities we will support to improve their local recruitment and retention practice. Each participating authority will receive a report containing their position against the national benchmark on over 30 key metrics.
The benchmark is one of the legacies of the project we would like to continue, and broaden out to all fostering services across the UK. If you would like to participate in future years or seek further information, please email james.foyle@fostering.net 

Sporting endeavours

In last month’s blog, I wrote that I was surprised not to see any recruitment activity linking into any of the national sporting events such as the Tour de France, football World Cup and Wimbledon.

While not directly related to a particular event, Hampshire got in touch to showcase their new running campaign to raise awareness of fostering among staff and the local community. One hundred foster carers and staff from both Hampshire County Council and the Isle of Wight (whose children’s services department is currently led by Hampshire) are taking part in the Great South Run in October.  

Hampshire is using Facebook to promote training efforts and will be promoting their attendance in local media. All 100 runners will be sporting the ‘Team Fostercare’ running vest and the recruitment team will be setting up their stand in the runners’ village. There’s even talk of signing up to the Southampton half marathon to maintain momentum (if there’s any left!) next year.

If you’re planning a big event like Hampshire’s, do send me the details and share the success and lessons learned post event.

IN FOCUS

Twitter 

What is it?

For starters, not something to be a) afraid of and b) written off before understanding its potential. Through its microblogging, 140 character limit, platform Twitter’s mission is to ‘To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers’. 
So far, 271 million have engaged worldwide, sending over 500 million tweets a day…many of which are beyond dull and frankly offensive, viewed by a minute audience. But for the skilled user Twitter can be a source of fresh information, a platform for debate and a vehicle to engage with people of similar interests.

What is its purpose?

As you’ll see lower down, people use Twitter for a variety of reasons but in essence it is to connect, to amplify and to curate consistently, with personality. 

Who uses it and how?

There are over 270 million monthly active users of Twitter worldwide, 15 million in the UK as of September 2013 .

There are many different kinds of Twitter user. The ‘Super Users’ who curate with multiple tweets and followers, the ‘Ranters’, the ‘Dippers’ who have sporadic flurries of activity and the ‘Lurkers’ who use Twitter purely to observe. Around 40 per cent of users fall into the Lurker category according to research last year. Relating to its purpose, many also use it to inform and quiz. Typically the former provides the most interesting content.

In terms of demographics, those aged 55-64 are the biggest growing user group of Twitter, but around two thirds of users are under 34. And in the UK, 80 per cent of users use Twitter via a mobile device, mostly while commuting but also at live events, while sightseeing and rather rudely while eating and drinking. 

Many local councillors tweet in their constituencies, using Twitter as a forum to host Q&A sessions, known as ‘Twitter chats’. Local community interest groups tweet ‘what’s on’ and of interest in their local area – a fostering information session may be an example…

The Fostering Network primarily uses Twitter to broadcast our latest news, campaigns and links to our current projects. We also use the platform to provide updates from events through ‘live tweeting’, such as at our recent Staying Put conference. Live tweeting provides soundbites of key information to allow those who can’t attend keep abreast of the discussions. By using a hashtag , tweets such as these can be grouped together so a complete record of the event can be summarised and shared.

Why should my fostering service use it?

What are the pros and cons of not? Twitter is an increasingly popular tool used to connect with individuals, groups and organisations with common interests. It is a complimentary part of the marketing mix and a channel through which to directly communicate with your target audience.

But it requires resource. Build it and they will come has never been so misplaced with social media, and unlike your website, it needs updating, in reality, on a daily basis. It needs skilled resource too, someone who can write professionally but engagingly through an informal channel, not the bog standard, repetitive post ‘don’t forget to come to our fostering stand @Tesco this weekend’. Why?! Be compelling.

The starting point for every initiative is to set clear objectives and agree a process to analyse and evaluate its impact. Twitter can broaden your reach in your community, raise awareness of the real issues of fostering and signpost people to where and why they should be involved. Indirectly, it can encourage people to click through to your news stories, newsletters and blogs and build a relationship with you. On average, around 90 per cent of those who enquire aren’t approved, over 66,000 people a year. Twitter can be a tool to engage them and encourage them to continue to advocate for your service.

What should I post and when?

Tweets that include links are over 80 per cent more likely to be retweeted. Think about which links you want to include, perhaps a blog like that of Blue Sky Fostering or a newsletter, case studies of your foster carers or care leavers, your enquiry form, your support packages or news releases (some of the biggest engagement on the Fostering Network’s Twitter feed). Don’t though tweet the same links over and over, your audience will quickly switch off.

Tweet pictures of your fostering team and your foster carers while they are out and about meeting people in the community. Tag  local businesses, such as coffee shops or universities who may be hosting a particular event, or a large local employer you may be doing specific activity with.

Use a tool like Hootsuite to schedule your tweets. The working world might be 9 to 5 but social media is constant. Indeed engagement with brands (for which read organisations in general) is over 15 per cent higher at the weekend. 

How can I make it better?

If your fostering service Twitter account is well established and has a loyal following, take a close look at your Twitter stats to identify the posts which get the most engagement to see what your followers like to see and when.

Know your limits - tweets with less than 100 characters get almost 20 per cent more engagement. Although the maximum is 140, often the last few dozen characters are cut off in the feed. When a viewer is scrolling down a list at speed, make sure your tweet stands out with an image, link and snappy text.

The Fostering Network have produced two guides, Getting started in social media: a guide to setting up social media tools for use in foster carer recruitment and Developing Your Social Media Presence: A guide to utilising social media tools for use in foster carer recruitment to help you establish and develop your presence on the main social media platforms including Twitter. For specific advice, get in touch: james.foyle@fostering.net