Attracting and Keeping Carers - October 2014

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October kicked off with The Fostering Network’s annual showcase event, our conference which this year carried the theme of ‘The future of foster care – a focus on children and young people’.

Recruitment was not featured in this year’s programme, however it was raised by Alan Wood CBE, president of the ADCS and corporate director of Children and Young People's Services, Hackney Council. Hackney’s fostering service has invested in myriad initiatives, yet he was still stumped as to why his Borough is still struggling to attract and recruit sufficient foster carers.

London is not unique in having a number of local authorities and independent fostering providers in close proximity. It is also not the only part of the country to suffer from housing issues, although it is more pronounced. But this does suggest a fundamental shift is required to review how some fostering services recruit and retain foster carers. If you have thoughts on how to solve Alan’s problem, answers on an e-postcard to james.foyle@fostering.net

Hackney

One aspect that appears to be going well for Hackney Council is their support and training, as testified by foster carer and reality TV star, Debbie Douglas.

Debbie Douglas © The Guardian, 2014

‘World class’ is a bold statement, but Debbie speaks positively of her experience with the LA ; “their social workers know that while they’re there when we need them, we’re the ones doing the work 24/7.” She also acknowledges flexibility as being a key skill and therefore those who value routine will struggle. This raises the question of how do we support the 6 per cent of foster carers who are ‘Settlers’ and value stability and routine?

Clearly a dynamic individual, Debbie sees fostering as her profession, while maintaining a caring, loving and supportive relationship with the children she fosters. The article talks of the positive impact of fostering on her own children, the eldest once saying, “If there are 100 negatives to fostering, I can think of 1,000 positives”. Another bold statement, but one I’m sure shared by many other fostering families.

Western Trust

Northern Ireland’s Western Trust will soon be working with The Fostering Network as part of a bespoke recruitment project to assist their local activity. The Trust are currently campaigning for foster carers in the Tyrone area, featuring a fostering couple from the area.

This article includes a number of positive messages, but this one in particular stood out, “picking up the phone to find out information doesn’t mean you are making a commitment. We want people to think about fostering as we have a range of different needs”. Fostering services often encourage people to contact them to find out more, but this approach takes a slightly different tack, which may make people more relaxed about finding out more – time will tell.

What also speaks volumes is the evidently positive relationship with ‘Karen’, the family’s supervising social worker. I cannot stress enough the importance of this in both the recruitment and retention process. Some foster carer recruitment professionals sit remotely from the fostering team. For those of you who do, make it your business to get to know your social work team and understand the fostering relationship.

Community Foster Care – Give a book campaign

A nice initiative by Community Foster Care sees the fostering service teaming up with the charity Give a Book to provide children in the service’s care with a book. But not just any book, each were asked to name their favourite topic to receive a corresponding book suitable for their education level.

As our London Fostering Achievement project is promoting, literacy is such an important element of a child’s education. Providing a book, which belongs to the fostered child, is a generous pledge by the charity to inspire children in care to take an interest in dinosaurs, the dictionary and everything in between. Being able to demonstrate your service’s support for fostered children is a key issue for both prospective and current foster carers.

Foster carers are the Pride of Britain

Pride of Britain foster carer Betty McGlinchey

Coventry City Council are beaming with pride for foster carer Betty McGlinchey, the regional winner of the ITV/Daily Mirror - Pride of Britain award for her achievements in fostering.

Betty started out as a family and friends carer, fostering the two young daughters of her friend who had sadly passed away. She’s since gone on to foster over 1,200 children, including a sibling group who were meant to stay a fortnight, but ended up staying 16 years…

Foster carers like Betty are an inspiration, but very much one in a fair few thousand. Nevertheless, her advocacy, perseverance, compassion and fundamentally caring nature are skills sought in all new foster carers.

Manchester campaign continued

The Little Bee Pledge TreeIn July’s edition I shared Manchester Council’s current campaign, and their work out and about in the community. Paula, part of the service’s recruitment and assessment team, got in touch recently to update me on their campaign, which appears to be going from strength to strength.

At the time, I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure about the icon developed. But since collaborating with the local artist, Mancsy, the icon has developed into ‘Little Bee’ becoming the vehicle for fostering pledges and raising awareness of fostering both internally and in the community.

Creating and embedding a recognisable, trusted brand is a real challenge, and as Paula acknowledges, “It's about small steps but sticking with it.” I’m looking forward to seeing this character develop and the impact on the service’s recruitment activity.

IN FOCUS

Recruiting from religious communities

I’ve noted of late how a number of fostering services are targeting religious communities to identify potential foster carers who will provide a good match for the children in their care.

Independently and through collaboration with the Home for Good campaign, many have proven successful in generating enquiries. I have though received a number of enquiries over the past few months with issues presented in early discussions around sexual orientation.

Foster carers can and do come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. As per Standard 13.2 in the National Minimum Standards in England, ‘People who are interested in becoming foster carers are treated fairly, without prejudice, openly and with respect’. Similar statements are provided in the Scottish and Welsh equivalents. Applicants will be assessed on their suitability to foster via an assessment process which considers an applicant’s capacity to look after children in a safe and responsible way that meets the child’s development needs. The fostering service decision maker will take account of all information available, including any recommendations of the fostering panel in making a decision on an applicant’s suitability to foster.

Regulation 26 (2) and Schedule 3 of The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 addresses:

  • 6. Religious persuasion, and capacity to care for a child from any particular religious persuasion; and
  • 7. Racial origin, cultural and linguistic background and capacity to care for a child from any particular racial origin or cultural or linguistic background,

For some religious beliefs will contribute to specific views on same sex relationships (as well as gender, disability) and whilst the regulations do not explicitly refer to views and capacity to care in the context of sexual orientation this does not diminish the need to assess and consider any subsequent implications which may transpire. This reached the High Court in 2011 as a couple from Derbyshire, who had specific views, asked judges to rule that their faith should not be a bar to them becoming carers, and the law should protect their Christian values. The response was that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation "should take precedence" over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.

Our former chief executive Robert Tapsfield said at the time,“Looking after someone else’s child is a challenging and responsible role and foster carers need to be open-minded and flexible so they can support that child and help them develop and grow. If a fostering service has doubts as to whether someone can fulfil this role then they should not be approved to foster.”

Fostering applicants who have specific views and beliefs at the outset should be supported effectively, and need to be able to demonstrate a flexible, inclusive and open perspective in order to meet the potential needs of a fostered child placed in their care. Many of the fostering services I hear from are achieving this by contacting the heads of local churches, Rabbis and Imams to discuss the issues and to try and identify a resolution. 

"We’ve managed to affect some shift in some peoples’ stance on some issues – obvious ones are attitudes towards contact with birth families; willingness to consider children with unknown health issues or uncertain ethnicity. We have had some success in assisting some carers to overcome initial prejudice about same-sex couples, by being able to point to research about positive outcomes (or absence of negative outcomes) for children in such relationships." Fostering Practice Manager. 

Cambridge University published research in 2013 confirming same-sex couples are just as good at parenting as heterosexual couples in the context of adoption.

For some, however, there will not be a resolution and a decision will be made that they cannot progress with the assessment if their views are such that they are unable to support a child who may be gay or questioning their sexual orientation, or engage with a prospective long-term foster carer or adoptive couple in a same sex relationship and ultimately provide them with a balanced upbringing, promoting equality and diversity.

In this instance, the decision to end an assessment or refuse approval is based on the applicant’s inability to meet the needs of the child, not their religion.

The following checklist will support you if the need requires conducting a recruitment drive in a religious community:

  • Be aware of your own organisation’s policy on equality and diversity
  • Consider who within the community you need to engage prior to developing a campaign
  • Understand the needs of the community and therefore the type of messaging and imagery to include in material and general engagement
  • Facilitate specific information sessions for the community in venues and at times suitable to them
  • Brief all members of the recruitment team on the shared objective

Members of The Fostering Network can access our Member Helpline, which can provide further advice and guidance on this and any other practice issues in the recruitment and retention of foster carers.