Attracting and Keeping Carers – June 2013

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What a fortnight. We will shortly be sending out a questionnaire to see how it went for your fostering service, but the initial feedback on this year’s Foster Care Fortnight campaign looks fantastic. Thank you to everyone who took part. Hopefully the campaign has generated enquiries and will continue to do so for the coming months. Our top tips section this week looks at how to engage new enquirers and keep in touch.

Our DfE funded project to support fostering services to recruit more foster carers continues apace. Thank you to the fostering services that have shared it with foster carers, helping us reach our current 2,000+ responses. We do though need more responses, particularly from foster carers in Wales and also if your authority would like to be considered as one of the 15 this year to receive one-to-one support, so please do keep encouraging your foster carers to complete it.

The second survey, our new benchmarking survey, will be available shortly. As well as providing data on conversion rates, which I know fostering services are always keen to learn, this first of its kind survey will allow you to compare your fostering service’s performance across a number of metrics on a national and regional level, as well as with your statistical neighbours.

Foster Care Fortnight

Following on from the exclusive article in the Independent on Sunday, the week began in earnest with the Fostering Network’s Vicki Swain appearing alongside care leaver Clare Marshall on BBC Breakfast discussing the benefits of stable fostering placements.

Other highlights included foster carer and ex-Liverpool and England international footballer Mark Wright and his wife Sue appeared on the Fostering Network’s behalf on BBC Breakfast discussing their fostering experiences. Celebrity cook Lorraine Pascale continued her support for the campaign, appearing for us on the Lorraine Kelly show discussing her experience of care, while Sky covered the need for more foster families to come forward in their news bulletins on launch day.

Politicians also came out in force, with a number willing to put themselves in the frame to support the campaign. Former home secretary David Blunkett got in the frame, as did the minister for children and families with responsibility for fostering in England, Edward Timpson, his Scottish counterpart Aileen Campbell, deputy minister for social services in Wales Gwenda Thomas and health minister for Northern Ireland, Edwin Poots in our online gallery.

Of course the real stars and the reason why the campaign came alive are those fostering services that took the theme and well and truly ran with it.
From Foster Swansea’s ’12 days to make a difference’ campaign, featuring a dedicated website and numerous tv and radio presenters snapped in the frame, and – my personal favourite as I’m now cycling to work in it – Birmingham’s ‘get in the frame’ t-shirts, the campaign achieved what I hope it would. We’ve engaged a variety of people in a fun but informative way to raise the profile of fostering and show the diversity of those who foster and support fostering. Give yourself a pat on the back!

What all this translates to in terms of figures is over 1,100 pieces of media coverage across the UK, comparable with last year. Our online gallery to date has over 900 visits and more than, 1,200 page views for the 25 foster carers, celebrities, care leavers and politicians we used as the main faces of the campaign.
Our Pinterest board attracted 324 more pictures “in the frame” and 65 followers. If you still have pictures of people in the frame who have not yet been pinned it’s not too late to be included. Please send them through to fcf@fostering.net and we will pin them up.

Foster Care Fortnight evaluation

The evaluation for Foster Care Fortnight is now available. Please take a few minutes to complete it and return to it fcf@fostering.net
I appreciate for some, depending on how enquiries are monitored, that Foster Care Fortnight can seem to skew conversion rates as a result of the widespread publicity and call to action. This is understandable as for many people, this will be an early stage of finding out about fostering and they need the time to consider the decision.

We are though still keen to track just how many people do enquire and proceed through their application during the year. As such, I’ve put together a short monitoring spreadsheet specifically for Foster Care Fortnight enquiries available at Foster Care Fortnight enquiry tracking spreadsheet. Please do take the time to complete this as it will support us to better support you by understanding the impact of Foster Care Fortnight and help shape future Foster Care Fortnight campaigns.

Supporting fostering services to recruit more foster carers

In last month’s blog I introduced our new project to support fostering services to recruit new foster carers. To update you on the developments since – we attended a ‘Partnership Learning Day’ with the DfE and those successful fostering services that have been awarded contracts to work in consortia across the public and independent sectors to find joint solutions to recruiting those children who are ‘hard to place’.

The event was a useful opportunity to meet those involved and learn the initial ideas of what these unprecedented relationships will be seeking to deliver. Similar days will be occurring throughout the year to update the progress on the respective projects – watch this space for updates.

As mentioned above, we have received a fantastic response from foster carers completing our national foster carer recruitment survey with around 2,350 responses so far. We are though still keen for more, particularly from those who want to be one of the 15 which benefit from the one-to-one support from the Fostering Network and iMPOWER. Please continue to encourage your foster carers to complete it as the data will be invaluable in allowing you to target, recruit and retain the foster carers you need.

Amendments to fostering regulations

The Department for Education has recently published new statutory guidance on the delegation of authority to looked-after children’s carers and the assessment and approval process for foster carers in England.

The new guidance, which comes into force on 1 July, replaces paragraphs within the Children Act 1989 Guidance Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review; and Volume 4: Fostering Services.

To help fostering services understand the amends to the assessment and approval process, the DfE has produced a flowchart illustrating how stages one and two fit together.

The amendments have been made so that pre-assessment (stage one) and assessment (stage two) stages can be carried out concurrently. If an applicant is deemed unsuitable at stage one, the application can be terminated even if stage two has commenced. The applicant has the right to complain but cannot apply to the IRM. This is only possible if the application is terminated at stage two.

Other key features of the changes include the use of personal referees. If an applicant has been an approved as a foster carer in the previous year, and that service provides a reference, there is no requirement (but still the ability) to interview two personal referees. Additionally, if a foster carer is transferring between services, applying to adopt, or an adopter is applying to foster, the agency has 15 days to supply the information.

If you have any queries with regard to the changes, please list them in the comments below or email me at james.foyle@fostering.net

Don’t Move Me

The Fostering Network has launched a new campaign to allow young people to stay with their foster carers beyond their 18th birthday.

 

Championed by Wythenshawe and Sale East MP, Paul Goggins MP, and receiving wide cross-party support, the campaign is change the law so that young people in England can remain with their foster carers until the age of 21, if both parties agree.

An amendment to the Children and Families Bill was tabled by Paul Goggins, and signed by 21 MPs ahead of the report stage of the Bill in the House of Commons. Ann Coffey MP spoke to the amendment, and in reply children’s minister Edward Timpson MP said that he could look again at legislation in future, if recent guidance did not make a difference.

The average age for most young people to leave home across the UK is 24 years. Where the placement is stable and positive, being able to stay longer with their foster carers could make a difference to a young person’s academic achievements, provide a secure base for entering into the workplace or generally smoothing the transition into adulthood.

The Fostering Network will be taking forward this campaign as the bill enters the House of Lords. The new guidance may already be leading to a change in your practice. We would also like to hear your views on how a change in the law would impact on your fostering service in terms of retention and recruitment of foster carers, and how we can work together to look for new ways of recruiting and retaining the foster families needed. Either leave a comment on this blog or email james.foyle@fostering.net

Recruitment and retention forums in Scotland

An action for the Fostering Network following last month’s event with the Scottish Government is to develop a recruitment and retention forum to enable sharing of good practice, ideas and opportunities for joint working in Scotland. A working group is being established, and there’s still time for people to be part of this if they would like, while you can also be part of the wider forum by getting in touch with the Fostering Network Scotland’s Sarah McEnhill at sara.mcenhill@fostering.net

Elsewhere, we have a new learning and development leaflet, showcasing all of our in-house training offers in Scotland, including a number of courses to support foster carers.

 

Fostering Communities project

Bridgend CBC foster carers recently came together in a training session in June, as part of the Fostering Network Wales Fostering Communities project, to focus on storytelling and attachment. 

Project manager Maria Boffey said: ’It might seem that storytelling is just a fun activity for very young children, something that they do before they learn to read for themselves. However, it can be one of the most powerful tools you can imagine to use with children of any age to help develop important cognitive skills for learning about the world and for also learning about dealing with feelings and relationships. It can be particular useful for foster children and helps strengthen their relationship with you. Above all, it’s fun and surprisingly easy to learn.’

Bernadette Guy, social worker, said: ‘This event was a departure from our more traditional method of learning about attachment. Not only was it fun but also gave an opportunity to tackle some thorny and difficult issues in a relaxed atmosphere. My feeling was that attendees left with an array of practical tools whilst also benefiting from being able to share their experiences and tips.’
A free copy for members of the guide Building Relationships through Storytelling:  A foster carer’s guide to attachment and stories is available.

Northern Ireland family fun day

Saturday 25 May 2013 saw 50 Foster Carers and Young people taking part in our family fun day at Lough Neagh Discovery Centre.  This was a joint venture between the Fostering Network and the Public Health Agency. The day began with a Zumba workshop enjoyed by attendees and staff alike. 

This was followed by a fruit themed arts workshop for the young people while foster carers had the opportunity to take part in a discussion on the health needs of looked after children with Kathleen Toner, Deputy Director and Doris Dickison Advice and Information Officer.

IN FOCUS

As last year’s survey of fostering services showed, those that take part often see a spike in the number of enquiries they receive. Initial feedback from fostering services such as Gloucestershire, which doubled monthly enquiries, and Foster Swansea, suggest that trend is set to continue.

In periods when fostering services are contemplating a campaign, it is important to consider all stakeholders involved, including those internal ones who will be responsible for fielding initial enquiries and distributing information packs. Apportioning sufficient resources to staff phones and extra information sessions in periods of higher levels of enquiries is a major exercise. Let’s look at some of the other important points to consider…
Six top tips for handling initial enquiries

  1. First impressions count – A cliché but so relevant in an increasingly competitive market place. Gone are the days when prospective foster carers will persevere and call you several times before receiving a response. Make sure there is a dedicated member of staff on hand to answer the call within a specified amount of time. And be clear in your communications about when your office will be open to receive calls, so as not to disappoint enquirers.
  2. Consider the skills required to take the call – Many fostering services prefer to have someone with a social work qualification handling initial calls. However it is often sufficient for a non-practitioner to be handling initial calls, provided the fostering service has a clear script for initial enquiries.
  3. Ask the right questions  – Although fostering services are keen to encourage people to put themselves in the frame to become a foster carer, it is important to establish whether the enquirer would be suitable to foster. Certain criteria, such as not having a spare room or a criminal record, may prevent people from fostering, so be clear from the start in order to be efficient with resources and avoid raising expectations.
  4. Be selective – the assumption that ‘bigger is better’ is not always the case. By doing a detailed needs analysis, you will know the make-up of your local looked-after children population. If you have sufficient foster carers for 0 to 5s for example, if the enquirer is only expressing an interest in this age group and isn’t presenting the skills or is reluctant to foster other groups, thank them for their interest and signpost them to an alternative service.
  5. Be flexible – This is two-fold. Firstly, many will not be aware of your fostering service’s requirements with regards to jobs outside the home. In the interim the enquirer may have a full-time job, which they may be willing to scale back in future, but for the initial visit, offer them the flexibility of a time that suits them. Additionally, not everyone that enquires wants to start the process straight away. Often we hear of people feeling rushed through the process, “I only wanted to find out what it would involve, now I find myself starting training!”. Strike a balance of encouraging, but giving enquirers the time to make a life changing decision.
  6. Following up – Following on from the above, how can you engage those that only request an information pack? For starters, capture their email address to include them on any newsletters you produce or forward them dates and invite them to information sessions. If you’re producing a new campaign, email them some of the marketing literature to remind them of who you’re looking for…hopefully them! Again, strike a balance between reminding them you’re there with being overbearing and turning a good prospect off.

PS

Recruitment forums exist across England as an opportunity for fostering services to come together to share information, hear about the latest from the Fostering Network and look at opportunities to develop joint working initiatives.

In the next phase of establishing forums, I’m looking to hear from local authority foster carer recruiters in:

  • East Midlands
  • West Midlands
  • Yorkshire and Humberside

who would like to form a forum in their respective area.

To register your interest or for more information, please email me at james.foyle@fostering.net