Attracting and Keeping Carers - March 2015

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A number of news stories have hit the fostering headlines since my last blog. On a local level, East Midlands authorities have launched their collective ‘Space for a Child’ campaign, while in Northern Ireland, the Western Trust’s new campaign has been launched to encourage more people to come forward to care for older children.

Nationally, The Fostering Network launched the results of our State of the Nation’s Foster Care survey, the new minimum allowances for England have been released and New Family Social have been celebrating their LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week.

I’ve been out and about on a fact finding mission for this month’s IN FOCUS, meeting two incredibly passionate foster carers from Greenwich who are behind the service’s Fostering Support Task Group. Read on to learn more and hopefully be inspired.

Why Foster Carers Care part II

The Fostering Network has launched the follow up report to our research into the values and motivations of foster carers. Why Foster Carers Care Part II is informed by a survey of foster carers approved since April 2013 to test hypotheses against the overall foster carer cohort surveyed in summer 2013.

Contrary to expectation, a greater proportion of newly approved foster carers have Pioneer values - 81 per cent compared to 73 per cent of all foster carers. The report also contains interesting findings on the point in the application when a foster carer feels most valued, and the key drivers for choosing to foster with a specific recruitment service. 

National minimum allowances

The following allowances have been agreed by the Government for foster carers in England for the coming year.

Weekly rates

​National Minimum Allowances 2015/16
 BabiesPre-PrimaryPrimarySecondary
(11-15 years)
Secondary
(16-17 years)
Base123126139159185
South East136140156177208
London142145163184216

(Fees are displayed £ per week)

These national minimum allowances fall slightly below The Fostering Network’s recommended minimum for 2015-16.

State of the Nation’s Foster Care

Over 1,000 foster carers took part in a survey to identify the current state of the nation’s foster care. Foster carers were surveyed on a number of issues, including the practical and financial support they receive, their professional development and training and why they foster.

The findings, reported in The State of the Nation’s Foster Care, identified four key themes for foster carers to:

  • Be respected and treated as a skilled co-professional, and to be recognised as part of the team working with the child; •
  • Be given the authority to make everyday decisions about the care of their fostered children;
  • Have better access to and consistency of social workers; and
  • Receive proper financial support.

Despite the rhetoric on being part of the team and the sustained push for delegated authority, there’s clearly more to be done.

Space for a child

Local authority fostering services in the East Midlands have joined together to create the Space for a Child campaign.

The key objectives of the campaign are to raise the profile of fostering in the region through new channels, and encourage more of the right enquiries. Benefitting from the economies of scale of working together, the services have produced a TV advert, aired in prime ITV slots for a two week period.

The initial feedback has proved positive, with a number of services within the group seeing an uplift in website visits and an increase in enquiries.

Fostering drive in Northern Ireland

Recognising the increase in the number of children aged 8 to 17 coming into care, the Western Health Trust in Northern Ireland is on a recruitment drive to attract more people in the region to fostering.

Four couples attended the information session, held at the Altnagelvin Hospital, receiving presentations from foster carers and other members of the fostering team. The team are now in the process of following up interest.

Local demographics will of course be a factor, but many services report differing levels of success and interest in holding information sessions, with attendances ranging from two to 80 prospective fostering households. Timing, publicity and content are the obvious factors, but if your fostering service is consistently running information sessions with high demand, please do get in touch with me to learn more about your formula for success.

I’m not brave…

Striking a balance between producing marketing material and communications to attract new people to consider fostering, while giving a realistic outlook on the challenges of fostering, is a skill, and one which will ultimately impact on a fostering service’s ability to meet its sufficiency duty.

This article by Hertfordshire’s fostering service has one of the more challenging openings I’ve seen. It’s still afflicted by the curse of the councillor comment, but the foster carer’s journey comes across positively as does the increase in professionalism within the sector – although I don’t doubt the “phone call in the middle of the night” still features…

The statement of “I’m not brave…you just have to be committed” is a clear pioneer trait. Some services portray foster carers as super heroes in their campaigns, which won’t attract your typical pioneer foster carer, more the prospector keen to demonstrate their abilities. Hertfordshire have had good success recruiting foster carers with pioneer values, but the question remains of what benefits foster carers with other values bring to the lives of looked after children.

IN FOCUS

Fostering Support Task Group – Greenwich

The Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Fostering Support Task Group (FSTG) is an initiative for foster carers, delivered by foster carers. The service steps in to provide support, ‘perform a task’, when a foster carer and their own network are unable to do so. The benefits are clear – placements can be made and maintained, achieving continuity for the looked after child. Foster carers also benefit from the additional layer of support, with the sense of community and satisfaction of teamwork plain to see.

The background

Created in 2004, the original remit of the group was to help to arrange care or transport alternatives to facilitate a foster carer attending training when their own support networks were unable to assist.

The founding member of the group, Cherrie, was at the time combining fostering with working for an agency to supervise contact in the gaps between her fostering placements. Cherrie recognised her role for the agency, stepping in to facilitate contact when the foster carer was unable to do so, could be developed within Greenwich’s fostering service. A meeting with the then team manager, Martin Leete, outlined a form of service level agreement to which the service would operate. Both Cherrie and Liz feel that without Martin’s foresight and vision, the FSTG would never have materialised.

The group has now expanded to be co-ordinated by two Greenwich foster carers, with 53 members, of whom 16 are currently fully active and on standby to perform the task required.

The process

A conflict arises in a foster carer’s schedule, for example a training session is held at the same time as the drop off for a school trip, or a sudden family illness requires the foster carer’s urgent attention:

  • Step one: The foster carer contacts their own support network to see if any are able to help.
  • Step two: If not, the foster carer contacts their supervising social worker (SSW) to alert them of the issue. The SSW then makes the decision to involve the FSTG.
  • Step three: If yes, the FSTG are fully briefed of the task needed by the social worker
  • Step four: The FSTG then identify and contact a suitable member of the group to perform the task.
  • Step five: Once a support foster carer to perform the task has been identified, the FSTG contact the SSW to confirm, and contact the foster carer who raised the request to confirm an intervention is in place.

All tasks generated are logged by the two FSTG co-ordinators, who meet with the fostering service manager on a monthly basis to discuss the volume and types of tasks performed.

The FSTG try to identify a support foster carer known to the child. If not and if time permits, the child is introduced to the support foster carer beforehand to ensure they are familiar with the individual who will be caring for them. The support foster carer will also receive a ‘child information form’ detailing any specific needs of the looked after child.

Tasks performed

The majority of tasks required are currently largely transport based in order to facilitate contact or the school drop off or pick up.

Tasks can involve caring for a fostered child for a period during the day, again for example to enable the foster carer to attend training or a private appointment. In this instance the support foster carer will be carefully matched within their own approval range to the child. Once agreed, they will care for the child in their home, unless the child’s needs are such that they need to be cared for in their foster carer’s home – a decision agreed by the SSW.

Tasks can also provide peer-to-peer support for foster carers in need, particularly for newly approved foster carers.

Case study example

I have been an approved foster carer for over 10 years, and have been an active member of the FSTG since its infancy. I have carried out many and varied tasks to support other carers and I have also received support from FSTG on occasions.

The tasks can be varied and unpredictable. We can be called upon at any time of day, including weekends and at very short notice. An example of this is when I was called during the evening and asked if I could accompany a social worker to collect three children from Norfolk the next day. On another occasion I was asked if I could provide immediate support to a new and inexperienced foster carer whose teenage placement had self-harmed. I have also carried out many tasks to transport children to and from contact and/or school. I have found that whatever the task, big or small, the carer has been extremely thankful for the support.

I have experienced first hand how quickly the group co-ordinators can organise a task on behalf of a foster carer. There was an occasion when the birth family of a child I had in placement focused their frustration on me when I took the child to contact. The FSTG co-ordinator arranged for a group member to collect the child from contact within the hour and to also carry out the transport to and from contact for the rest of the week. This enabled the birth family to have time and space to regulate their emotions and refocus their frustration appropriately. I am certain that having this immediate response and support from FSTG enabled the otherwise positive relationship with the birth family to continue and maintain the placement’s stability. Linda, foster carer.

Liz and Cherrie with the Foster Care Fortnight placard

Evaluation

Originally intended to support mainstream foster carers to attend training, the FSTG have extended their support to kinship carers, indeed two kinship carers are now part of the FSTG.

Since April 2014, the group have received over 100 tasks, many leading to subsequent or a succession of repeat tasks. Over the 11 year history of the group, there have only been two instances when a task given could not be completed.

The testimonials to the service are numerous,

Without the group’s help I would not have been able to maintain my placements and meet the needs of the children.”

…thanks to FSTG you made it easier for me to put my mind (at) rest, knowing that my foster child is in great hands of one of our foster carers.”

Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Permanence Group Leader, Bryan Edmands adds they are “the jewels in the crown”.

While many fostering services are looking to develop Fostering Ambassador schemes to provide peer-to-peer support, the FSTG take this a step further by providing an extra layer of support to Greenwich foster carers, and are a credit to their service. Having met them, it was abundantly clear that the motivations of the co-ordinators, Liz and Cherrie, are completely altruistic in helping their fellow foster carers meet the needs of the children in their care. Their passion for the service spoke volumes and they are keen to see similar initiatives developed in other areas.

Richard Field, a foster carer and trustee of The Fostering Network, has acknowledged that the need for a strong support network was not explicit when he applied to foster. Foster carers, like any other parent, will need additional help from time to time.

New foster carer recruits are encouraged to join the FSTG. Being part of the group gives foster carers a sense of community and enables them to socialise and meet other foster carers. While not a substitute for a fostering placement, performing an FSTG task gives foster carers a chance to care for children outside their preferred age group. With vacancy rates continuing to be an issue for a number of fostering services, this structure could, in the long term, reduce the number of placements turned down by foster carers.

Adopting the FSTG’s approach could have a profound impact on your service in helping prevent placement breakdown and facilitating the best matches for the child and could be a strong advert for foster carer recruitment and retention. If you would like to explore this in greater detail, please email me at james.foyle@fostering.net​​

PS

There have been a number of high profile social care cases in the news of late, which this blog has overlooked to focus on core recruitment and retention issues.

The recent case in Darlington is one of a number of high profile cases since 2005, leading to risk aversion and introduction of safeguarding teams, and rightly so to protect children and young people.

‘Risk is sensible’ is now the desired approach. However the system is still failing children and young people, resulting in the prime minister’s most recent proposal to hand key child care professionals up to five years in prison for ‘turning a blind eye’ to child abuse, which in itself will lead to hours of debate.

But what impact do cases such as these have on your service’s recruitment and retention of foster carers, both in terms of internal pressures and external perceptions?