Foster carer recruitment – no cause for alarm

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Recruiting the right people to become foster carers is difficult, and is an ongoing challenge for fostering services. The Fostering Network estimates that a further 7,000 foster families are needed in the next year, but this is what recruitment teams do all day, every day, and – contrary to some recent media statements – we believe it’s entirely achievable.

Earlier this month a report was released by Action for Children stating that 85 per cent of UK adults surveyed show little or no interest in fostering. That is, of course, disappointing but not, as widely report, an indication of a recruitment crisis in fostering nor any cause for alarm. Across the UK there are 27 million households. If just 0.03 per cent of these were to become foster carers each year that would meet the demand for new 7,000 new foster families. That’s just three out of every 10,000 households. The key is for fostering services to find the RIGHT people they need to become foster carers – they don’t need everyone to become foster carers.

Foster carers need the appropriate skills and experience to meet the needs of the children and young people they will be looking after. Fostering services should (as many do) be undertaking an audit of the sort of children they need foster carers for and be targeting their marketing at recruiting those people.

It is also essential that fostering services do all they can to retain their existing foster carers – treating them as co-professionals, offering appropriate training and support, and providing sufficient remuneration. A motivated foster carer cohort can also act as the best recruitment method a fostering service has.

As a result of the Action for Children survey, some have been calling for a government-funded recruitment campaign. In fact there is already a successful UK-wide fostering awareness campaign – Foster Care Fortnight, run by The Fostering Network. This year the campaign reached over 12.7 million people on social media and received over 1,000 pieces of news coverage. Hundreds of fostering services held recruitment events through the fortnight, as well as thank you events for their existing carers.

There are challenges for a UK-wide marketing campaign, not least that the particular needs for foster carers varies from location to location – but there is certainly the need for Foster Care Fortnight, raising awareness of the fantastic work of foster carers and the need for more people to come forward to foster. This can then be tailored locally so that the right people are being targeted to meet the local needs. We would, of course, welcome government or other funding for Foster Care Fortnight which would increase the reach of the campaign, but also encourage all fostering services to focus on their local needs, and to ensure that they are offering foster carers the best possible financial and practical support to improve both recruitment and retention.