Foster Care Fortnight 2015 saw a tidal wave of fostering and orange has swept across the UK thanks to you and your foster carers.
We led with the results from a survey reporting that 40 per cent of teenagers in foster care are already on their third placement; a quarter their fourth. Carla, a care leaver and now social worker with Little Acorns, gave us a fantastic case study, which helped share our story.
Blogs have been the bedrock of the campaign, each day providing new insight into fostering from a different perspective. Thank you to everyone who contributed and helped us share their stories.
The placards have reached every corner of the UK, and we’re delighted with the variety of people who have been engaged. I know not everyone subscribes to the social media generation, and is therefore willing to have their profile online, but the 400+ who have participated demonstrate individually and collectively how important fostering is within our society. Placards have been conversation starters, educating people who would otherwise not connect with fostering about the benefits it brings, as well as celebrating those already connected to fostering.
Services have already been in touch to share the campaign’s impact for them, and there appears to be a steady stream of enquiries, with real spikes in some areas. I’d be really grateful if you can spare five to 10 minutes to complete our short survey about this year’s Foster Care Fortnight.
Here’s a summary of what everyone’s been up to…
The middle weekend of Foster Care Fortnight saw our inaugural Foster Walks take place across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Hundreds gathered in south Wales, Magherafelt, Gloucestershire and on the bank of the Thames in London, many donned in orange, in a celebration of fostering and raising funds for The Fostering Network.
Fostering services, foster carers and their children walked alongside members of staff from The Fostering Network and our partners Towergate and Endsleigh, enjoying conversations about their connection to fostering. I ‘Foster Walked’ in London and what was particularly good to see was the occasional member of the public asking questions of foster walkers and what they were doing, spreading the message of fostering. Some even reached into their pocket to donate to the cause on the spot – foster carers are clearly great advocates for fostering!
We hope these will be the first of many bigger and better Foster Walks in the years to come.
Sunday 7 June saw the first episode of a brand new documentary about fostering on the BBC. The four part series, Protecting Our Foster Kids, was filmed with Dorset County Council’s fostering service over the course of a year.
This is unchartered territory for fostering. The Fostering Network has been approached numerous times with similar proposals but not for a number of years has permission been given to feature fostered children in this format.
The intention of the programme is to share, ‘the intimate day-to-day work foster carers and other professionals undertake, while helping the lives of children in care.’ The first episode contains some positive moments around fostering a teenager, alongside the hard, emotional reality of fostering. It illustrated a case where the sisters’ individual needs were better met when they lived apart, which is perhaps the exception and doesn’t back up our messages about the need for more foster carers who can keep siblings together. But it showed how important it is to convey that every child and their circumstances are unique.
Foster Carer of the Year in NI
Congratulations to Karen Sharkey, who has been awarded the Foster Carer of the Year in Northern Ireland award for 2015.
Omagh resident Karen was inspired to foster by her aunt who was a foster carer for 25 years.
Awards ceremonies are always such a powerful tool to acknowledge and celebrate the work of your foster carers. As in the case of our awards, it also provides an opportunity for friends and relatives to step forward and nominate a foster carer, expanding the range of people engaged but also the positive messages shared. Susan, who nominated Karen, said of her, “She goes to great lengths to fully understand their conditions and will do whatever it takes for the children in her care to achieve their full potential. She gives them so much love and one to one attention. It is lovely to see them living such happy lives.” What better way to showcase fostering?
Foster Carers’ Charter launched in Wales
On Friday 12 June I headed to Cardiff to attend the Foster Care Fortnight celebration event at the Senedd in Cardiff. The event saw the launch of the new Foster Carers’ Charter in Wales – outlining the roles and commitments of both fostering services and their foster carers.
Keynote speaker, Mark Drakeford AM, minister for health and social services in Wales also spoke on When I’m Ready, the new legislation in Wales allowing fostered young people to stay with their foster carer to 21.
Like Staying Put in England, When I’m Ready has the potential to make an extremely positive difference to young people in foster care. But the spirit of it needs to be followed by all services involved in the process. It is therefore an opportunity for all those who truly want the best outcomes for looked after children to come together to make it work for them.
Leeds joint working
Following their involvement as one of the 12 local authorities involved in the Department for Education’s fostering consortia project, Leeds Council has continued the joint working initiative for Foster Care Fortnight.
Fifteen fostering services came together on the second Monday of Foster Care Fortnight to provide expert advice to those interested in becoming a foster carer. Fifty people attended the event at the First Direct Arena, with around half requesting a home visit to find out more.
The event was advertised on radio and across social media by all partners, and has clearly been a success in engaging members of the public and bringing services together.
This is a truly pioneering approach by the authority (please do get in touch to tell me otherwise) and could well pave the way for more services to approach foster carer recruitment in this manner. Look out for more on this initiative in next month’s edition.
Foster carers consult with Government
The Fostering Network in Scotland pulled out all the stops to run a series of events this Foster Care Fortnight.
A fantastic event hosted by the Scottish Government was the highlight, with foster carers and other professionals consulting on the continuing care regulations. We also held an open day in The Fostering Network Scotland offices, a Reach Out event which explored the issues of fostering a disabled child, and media training for our Fostering Community Champions young champions.
High streets, supermarkets, community and sports centres and various office bases often have a fostering service presence during Foster Care Fortnight. Increasingly, services are seeking targeted opportunities to meet community groups and hold invite only-events to enhance their recruitment and retention activity.
Surrey County Council is one of a number of services using this approach this Foster Care Fortnight. Recruitment officer, Linda, says: “We understood that the most effective way to reach the specific audiences we wanted to talk to was to go direct to them, holding or attending events in their environment and building relationships with them, ideally through trusted peers who can relay their personal experiences of fostering. We believe that the events are not an end in themselves but the start of a long and enduring relationship that will lead to people from those communities to be inspired to become carers. We took carers who were part of those communities with us to help build trust and to convey that people like them can and do foster.
“Highlights included the chairman of the council joining us with the Outline Group at the international day against homophobia and transphobia in Woking, and we were made to feel like royalty with a banquet fit for kings and queens at the mosque in Ashford and Staines.”
The service has received 44 enquiries since May, and hopefully many more will follow.
Many of you are increasingly seeing a benefit from holding targeted events. What impact are you seeing on the quality of enquiries as a result? Are more suitable and progressing through the application process? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Foster Care Fortnight service activity
So many of you have engaged in this year’s campaign, it is impossible to acknowledge everyone who has contributed. On the placard front alone, Blue Sky Fostering, Sefton and Slough Councils, Swiis, and Eastern Family Services have been prolific. Our Pinterest board now has over 450 pins.
Of course, this year’s theme is not limited to Foster Care Fortnight. It can be used throughout the year to help recruit and retain foster carers, as many are planning to do.
One service which has particularly used the theme as a bedrock for recruitment and wider work is Eastern Family Service. On attending the Foster Care Fortnight workshop in London in February, recruitment officer Lucy was inspired to make a connection with the service’s local community. The approach has led to the service sponsoring a community gig racing team and a regular slot on a community radio show. These have all been achieved through making connections with local people who themselves had a direct connection to fostering. Their homemade radio series will have testimony from someone who has been fostered, foster carers, social workers, someone who has grown up in a fostering family, someone with experience of fostering asylum-seeking-children. This rich content will be shared on their website and form part of a social media campaign.
All this activity developing relationships with local people has created a foundation for further work – opportunities for the fostered children to experience the gig boat, and to raise the team’s awareness of fostered children.
Lucy says, “In short, the theme has been a rich source of inspiration to us and I am sure it will continue to form the basis for our ethos as we grow.”
Congratulations to Maria White, county marketing & recruitment officer, fostering & adoption in Oxfordshire for winning The Heart FM Marketing Excellence Award! The award is for a specific marketing campaign that ran during 2014 which could be attributed to achieving an increased level of commercial success. The judges looked for clear planning of objectives, innovation and a clearly expressed and articulated objective-led campaign strategy.
Maria said "the strategy was to deliver a marketing campaign to energise the look and feel of our publicity and to continue that across all media platforms.
“We know that for many reasons people rule themselves out of both fostering and adoption believing that they would not be able to apply - it was our aim to ensure that we opened people's minds to the idea that they can".
This is a great achievement, and one which will continue to help the service achieve its aim.