This is the first in a series of 'foster carer recruitment 101' blog posts that seek to re-examine the vital elements that often get overlooked - the links in the chain and the cogs in the machine of fostering recruitment.
There are many people involved in recruiting foster carers. The most important are those who have some contact or communication with inquiries and applicants. Depending on the size of the service, this can run into a large number of individuals, including:
- communications officers
- customer service officers
- recruitment/enquiry officers
- business support officers
- foster carers
- fostering social workers
- assessing social workers
- training officers
- panel administrators
- panel advisor
- panel members.
The fostering application and assessment process is very complex and involved. There are a series of hurdles and hoops to jump through, from enquiring to attending a fostering panel.
All the obstacles are because a fostering assessment has to be robust. When placing a vulnerable child or young person with someone who will be a stranger, a service needs to know everything about them. Firstly, to ensure that they aren't a risk and that they are going to be able to meet their needs.
At each stage of the journey, a potential carer needs to share information with the service. Sometimes this will be something fundamental, such as their name and address. At the other end of the scale, it could be very intimate details of relationships past and present.
In between stimulating someone to enquire and getting to the point where they are comfortable enough to disclose very personal information with their assessing social worker, there are many ways the process can put off a potential carer. Therefore, it is imperative to ensure any pitfalls are covered.
The best approach to anything involved in recruiting foster carers is to put yourself in the shoes of the potential carer and experience all the interactions and touchpoints from their point of view.
It isn't easy to empty your head of everything you know about fostering and look at things from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about it (or may have some common misconceptions). Particularly if you have been immersed in the world of fostering for some time - the language and ethos becomes second nature. Unless you step out of those shoes, there is bound to be some disconnect in communications and understanding.
The 'shoes' approach is the one that reaps the most rewards. There are lots of examples in everyday life which illustrate the point.
Depending on your age, you may remember owning a 'brick' mobile phone, which allowed you to make and receive calls and texts. And play 'snake'! I had such a phone, and I found the menus tedious and challenging to navigate. For example, it was a real effort for me to work out how to add a new contact or set up a number on speed dial.
Thankfully, along came smartphones, and they solved all my problems. They had been designed from the user experience backwards, rather than by a techie who was more interested in just shoehorning commands and functions into a list. The icons and prompts work beautifully on a smartphone, so well that half the time, we don't even have to put any brain effort into using them — a perfect example of the shoes approach.
The shoes approach is something IFAs understand very well and is one of the main reasons they have been increasing their market share of foster carers over the last few years. If you examine how IFAs approach recruitment, they make things as easy as possible for a potential carer at every stage of the enquiry and application process. It is not difficult for councils to emulate what they do and get the same positive results.
The crucial thing to take on board here involves going back to that list of staff involved in the process and making sure they all understand the shoes approach. As soon as everyone buys into the philosophy, the areas of work they are engaged in will start to align towards the people who matter most - those who will become foster carers.
In the next post of this series, I will look at which roles are essential at the start of the fostering journey and which basics need to be got right.
About the author
John Cooper is the marketing manager of foster carer recruitment at Westco Communications. His role involves working with councils and council-owned organisations to increase their number of foster carers whilst reducing their spend-per-approved fostering household. He has many years of experience recruiting foster carers whilst working at Leicestershire County Council, Nottingham City Council, and Birmingham Children's Trust.
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