Attracting and Keeping Carers - November 2013

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November for many is the midpoint between two large scale campaign periods, processing enquiries from the September ‘empty nesters’ and gearing up for the January ‘New Year’s fostering resolutions’ campaigns. I do miss the local involvement, but have been kept busy with our DfE-funded project to support fostering services to recruit more foster carers this month.

This year’s selected authorities came together in London on Thursday 7 November to be briefed on the project’s aims and objectives and have a first look at the findings from the benchmark and Values Modes survey, and hopefully went away equipped with a host of ideas to develop their action plans to improve their local recruitment and retention activity. 

The findings from both surveys and the wider implications of the Values Modes analysis will be shared at our Transforming foster carer recruitment event on 4 December. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

In other news, Foster Care Fortnight 2014 will run from 12 to 25 May with a “guess who fosters” based theme. Workshop dates where you can find out more will be announced soon – watch this space.

Camden council tax exemption

Foster carers in Camden, London could soon be told they no longer have to pay council tax.

The move comes as councillors look to provide support to existing foster carers and encourage more people to come forward to foster in Camden, and “(reduce) costs for expensive out of borough care”.

This is a truly first of its kind approach and I will provide feedback here as soon as I hear whether the proposal is passed.

If it does go through, I hope the local administration will be projecting the potential number of enquirers to the service and be planning how to resource it accordingly. Clearly if new applicants’ sole motivation is council tax relief, the service will be able to identify this quickly. Councillors clearly hope though that this will encourage people who have the right skills and qualities to come forward and foster in Camden. 

Armagh fostered girl in athletic mentoring scheme  

Christina Lester, a young person in foster care from Northern Ireland has been awarded a place on a UK-wide mentoring scheme headed by Dame Kelly Holmes.

The scheme selects 20 teenagers who have had challenging personal circumstances and pairs them up with a successful athlete, in Christina’s case former England hockey player Charlotte Hartley, to work on a social action project in their local community to boost their confidence and personal skills.

It is easy to forget the breadth of the role foster carers play in not only providing a supporting and stable home environment for a fostered child, but often being a mentor and a role model to children who have had a difficult start in life, a role we should all celebrate.

LA and IFP join forces

Parallel to our own recruitment project, the Department for Education is also supporting three consortia to identify opportunities for IFPs and LAs to work together to improve recruitment locally (I hope to have an update on this project for you next month).

Independently of this project, Doncaster Council and Fostering People have joined forces to benefit prospective foster carers in the area by streamlining the various messages put out by the two organisations.

With each individual fostering service across the country marketing their own product, including branding, messaging and support packages to obtain ‘competitive advantage’, it can be confusing for prospective foster carers particularly when a number of services are clustered in a small geographical area. 

The article doesn’t state how enquiries will be processed by each service, or if the two organisations will be looking to recruit for different types of foster care, but it is a bold move and one I’ll be keeping an eye on as to how it progresses.

Kirklees care leaver shares her story

A nice piece for Kirklees Council this month to support Foster4Yorkshire’s recent campaign comes from care leaver Kayleigh who has shared her experience of being in care and the support she received from her foster carers.

As you’ll see in the article, Brenda and Ian sound like they were incredibly resilient and Brenda can take pride in Kayleigh’s achievements, including becoming a nurse. It’s a shame the article doesn’t go on to identify or quote from a member of the team or Brenda the support provided to foster carers but hopefully this will resonate with people with the right skills and qualities to come forward. 

IN FOCUS

Word of mouth

Long championed as one of the most effective tools to recruit new foster carers, ‘word of mouth’ continues to have a significant impact on enquiry generation in all fostering services.

Findings from our recent benchmark survey suggests that word of mouth contributes on average 17 per cent of enquiries to a fostering service, a relatively low figure considering how important many perceive it to be, but potentially offset by an enquirer providing only the final point of contact that triggered their enquiry.

A disengaged and disenfranchised foster carer workforce can have a significantly negative and even destructive impact on your recruitment initiatives, as in a number of areas, peer reviews provide the credibility to a product or service.

The following provides five key considerations for how to engage and empower your current foster care workforce to advocate on your behalf to contribute to your recruitment activities. 

Briefing

As I discussed in July’s IN FOCUS, balancing recruitment activity with retaining foster carers who are without placements is integral to the success of not only your campaign but the overall service. Make your needs analysis clear and transparent to foster carers so they understand the reasons for your recruitment activity and provide a forum for them to ask further questions if they wish.

Planning

Some, but not all fostering services have foster carer representation in the recruitment planning cycle, from helping shape the recruitment message to the channels through which the campaign is promoted. Understanding what triggered them to come forward, what messages motivate and how they want to be communicated with in the initial enquiry stage is likely to attract other like-minded people to your fostering service.

Delivering

Perhaps the most obvious element of the process but the delivery does have a number of different options. 

By involving them in the planning process, existing foster carers may be prepared to feature in your promotional literature, or at the least as positive case studies on your website in blog, audio or video format. Some may also be willing and able to take part in media interviews or feature in articles. 

Online is increasingly valued as a primary recruitment tool. Current foster carers can be supported to take part in or even oversee your local fostering service's social media activity including regularly posting and stimulating conversation through your chosen channels.

Their voices and advocacy though will be most powerful face-to-face. Many fostering services already invite existing foster carers to speak to prospective foster carers at information sessions, but are there opportunities in your service for foster carers to staff the enquiry phone lines or even attend initial visits with social workers.

Communicating

For fostering services with 100s of foster carers it is clearly not practical to involve all of them in the planning stages, nor are they all likely to have an opinion. But communicate with them, through your local newsletters, emails or other groups and forums what your fostering service’s recruitment aspirations are and the messages you are putting out in order for them to understand your needs and speak consistently.

Rewarding 

Across the UK fostering services have established ‘recommend a friend’ based schemes financially rewarding foster carers who recommend someone they think has the skills and quality to foster, often a receiving a payment for an initial visit and a subsequent payment on approval.

Rewards don’t always have to be financial though. If a foster carer has worked on a recruitment campaign or even come up with the theme, credit them for their involvement. Social workers have to demonstrate continuing professional development so build up records of achievements for your foster carers, certificating their involvement in various schemes.

 

Ultimately, valuing, engaging and involving foster carers is not only more likely to advocate on your services behalf but also provide invaluable insight as to what attracted them to your service and may encourage others to do so. 

PS

Sons and daughters round upSons and daughters from Stockton rock climbing

Thank you, as ever, to everyone who took part in this year’s Sons and Daughters campaign.

Our Sons and Daughters blog page is full with interesting and insightful accounts of fostered children coming into the home.

Five Rivers fostering service got fantastic coverage in the south west with a celebration event to raise awareness and encourage people to come forward. Elsewhere, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Phoenix Foster Care, Quality Foster Care Ltd, Cambridge, Sussex, Surrey and Hackney fostering services took the opportunity to celebrate with us at our Walk the Difference, a fantastic celebration event – thank you.

Sons and daughters from the Belfast Trust at the BBC studiosStockton Council took their sons and daughters rock climbing and trampolining for the day, whilst in Northern Ireland sons and daughters from the Belfast Trust had a tour of the local BBC studios, an afternoon at Streamvale Open Farm and watched a nail-biting ice hockey game.

Sons and Daughters continues to be a celebration of birth children’s ongoing contribution to the fostering family and is also an opportunity for your fostering service to address some of the concerns of prospective foster carers about the impact of fostering on the wider family.

 

From across the Atlantic

I sign off this month with a clip from America of a young man’s impassioned appeal for permanence and a family to love him as a reminder of the reason behind the work that we all do.