February saw the publication of The Fostering Network’s new recruitment target for 2015. The figure, 8,370, reflects the continued rise of children coming into care, the significant numbers of foster carers leaving the service in the past year and a factor to allow sufficient placement choice.
Reviewing the data in England, our target of 7,000 new foster carers last year was very close to the actual figure of 7,100 recruited, demonstrating the continued efforts of fostering services across the country to attract new foster carers.
The message behind the figure is the continued need for foster carers for teenagers, sibling groups and disabled children, which has been echoed in the Foster Care Fortnight workshops I’ve attended recently. Parent and child placements and foster carers from specific ethnic groups are also in high demand.
Recruiting and retaining sufficient foster carers is an ongoing challenge for all fostering services across the UK. The vast majority of fostering services set an internal recruitment target to either increase the in-house provision of foster carers or provide placements for children with increasingly complex needs, both with a view to meeting demand.
The Fostering Network’s annual recruitment target has remained consistent at between eight and nine thousand new foster carers needed each year across the UK, reflecting the increase of children coming into care (a one per cent rise on last year, seven percent since 2010 in England), the number of foster carers leaving the service and to provide sufficient placement choice to enable matching to plan.
The sector has achieved the annual target over the past few years, but cannot afford to rest on its laurels as demand for foster care continues to increase. That said, greater scrutiny of recruitment is required to better understand vacancies and commissioning arrangements among other factors to ensure a vibrant, engaged and effective foster carer workforce in the year ahead.
Part of the recruitment challenge is finding foster carers who are able to care for sibling groups. A recent survey by The Fostering Network found that 37 per cent of looked after children who are part of a sibling group were not living with any of their siblings.
Now a report by the charity Siblings Together raises the potential impact of separating sibling groups, including an estimated cost to the UK economy in excess of £800 million. But of course it is the impact on the children that is of greatest concern, and shows the importance of an outcomes focused foster carer recruitment strategy.
Jessie J factor
Human interest stories can be gold dust for local media, and our current foster carers are some of the most engaging and interesting people in local communities. The positive story told by Fostering Solutions in this article of a trip to a Jessie J gig is the hook from which the viewer will want to read on.
We all know that a trip to see a pop star isn’t the answer for all fostered children, but in this case it marked a positive step in the journey of the young person’s transition through adolescence into becoming a young woman.
The article cleverly covers off the impact on birth children, the support and training available, the existing connection to fostering and the fact that Georgina had combined working with being a foster carer when first approved.
The national inspection of safeguarding and care planning of looked after children and care leavers who exhibit vulnerable or risky behaviours is a new report by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. The report acknowledges the challenge faced by services:
Despite local authorities’ strong commitment to ensuring placement choice and stability most were struggling to recruit foster carers in sufficient numbers to provide the range and choice of placements needed, particularly for those young people with challenging behaviour and with additional needs. Local authorities also reported similar shortages in the independent sector. This apparent deficit in the foster carer market raises complex challenges across Wales.
This is clearly a sentiment which could be echoed throughout the UK. The findings will also indirectly impact on foster carer retention, with questions raised on the level of service provision, with a call for urgent action to address mental health support for looked after children. The lack of key service intervention can put a strain on foster carer placements, increasing the likelihood of disrupting placement stability. Good examples of local practice need to be shared and transferred across all services.
KFC - Knowing Foster Carers?
I was alerted to this new advert by KFC by a text from a colleague late one evening. I can’t share the message, such was their shock, but the advert has been a hot topic of discussion.
We shared our thoughts in a blog, with the post on our Facebook wall leading to some of the highest engagement in a post we’ve received in months. Contrary to the criticism raised in some quarters, the advert has met with unanimous enthusiasm from foster carers, all agreeing that the depiction of long term foster care was a positive for fostering.
What feels like a PR bolt from the blue may in fact have a positive impact on foster carer recruitment . Please do email me if you receive any enquiries from people who reference having seen the ad.
Last month’s IN FOCUS provided a step by step guide to adding an enquiry form to your Facebook account. This month we take a broader look at sources of enquiry, informed by the findings from the Local Authority Fostering Service benchmark report due out in March 2015, to understand where enquiries come from and what more can be done to make the most of these sources.
Word of mouth is no longer number one
Fostering services have historically benefitted from the goodwill within the current crop of foster carers to generate fresh enquiries.
Although still a prevalent channel, 16 per cent of enquiries came through ‘word of mouth’, consistent with last year’s 17 per cent share - it is no longer the most effective tool for enquiry generation, having been overtaken by web enquiries.
A number of fostering services use ‘recommend a friend’ schemes, a ‘prospector’ type incentive to encourage foster carers to put friends or family forward to consider fostering. The majority I have encountered range from £50 to £600 on approval, with some providing a £20 token for each enquiry. As some fostering services on our project have acknowledged, why only limit the payment to foster carers? Members of the fostering team, wider colleagues in your organisation and even those beyond your service may be unable to foster but with the right information, can be encouraged to put forward someone they know.
The web – a ubiquitous channel?
The ONS reports that 38 million adults (76 per cent) in Great Britain accessed the internet every day in 2014. The Global Web Index shows that for 91 per cent of users, a laptop or PC is the most popular device used to search the Internet, with a smart phone second at 80 per cent.
The internet is also increasingly seen as a trusted channel through which to buy goods or register personal details for services of interest. With all fostering services having at least some web content, and a contact form through which to find out more, it is unsurprising that the web is the most prevalent source of enquiries, with a third attributed to this 24/7 channel.
An engaging website is one of the key tools within a fostering service’s marketing mix, allowing the provider to control exactly the information they want to publish, and leaving the viewer free to browse the content at their leisure. As such it is a highly competitive channel, with some services dedicating 100 per cent of their marketing budget to securing page visits.
Other marketing literature, such as a poster, leaflet, flyer or outdoor advertisement, often signposts the viewer to the website, which may explain the higher proportion of enquiries through this channel – if anything, I’m surprised it’s not higher.
Using analytics to not only understand the total number of visits to your site, but also to look at which pages they landed, how long they stayed, where they went after (and specifically to your recruitment form) and the time of day they submitted can all inform and improve your web offer.
Social media as yet untapped
Just three per cent of enquiries to fostering services participating in the Local Authority Fostering Service benchmark survey were directly attributed to social media.
An increasing proportion of fostering services now have established Facebook, Twitter and You Tube channels, with many in the process of building a locally relevant following. Developing a source for generating enquiries may not be an objective for the majority of social media accounts, with many being seen instead as a tool to start a conversation and signpost to other channels. But as demonstrated in last month’s IN FOCUS, it is possible to add a contact form to a Facebook account, drive traffic to the page through advertising and monitor the quality of enquiries received.
Whatever methods are used to generate enquiries, it is quality, not volume, which is the fundamental aspect to be considered when evaluating a channel’s success. Countless organisations will try and sell you products promising substantial lead generation, but if all these lead to a dead end and a waste of resources, what have they actually achieved? Understanding how many enquiries progress to training or submit an application from a particular source will help your service focus its recruitment initiatives. Taking this a stage further, does recruitment factor into your service’s evaluation of looked after children's outcomes? Foster carers are trained and developed to fulfil the role, but is there any correlation between the source of the enquiry and placement stability for example?
How does your service assess the success of a recruitment channel and how does this inform your recruitment strategy? What support can The Fostering Network offer to help you achieve your recruitment goals?
NB. The Local Authority Fostering Service benchmark report will be available in March 2015.
PS - A visit from the Duchess
This just missed the cut for the last edition of Attracting and Keeping Carers, but I didn’t want such a significant event to slip through.
In mid-January, The Fostering Network was delighted to welcome the Duchess of Cambridge to Islington Council to meet foster carers and have a discussion about fostering.
The event shone a spotlight on fostering (even though in some media outlets, Hobbs got the greater coverage!) and was a wonderful experience for all the foster carers, children and young people and children’s service staff involved.