The Guardian some time ago published a piece about fostering recruitment submitted by a management consulting firm. It captured my attention because for several years I have worked with local authorities and independent fostering agencies to help them to recruit foster carers.
The article highlights that the successful attraction and recruitment (and retention, in my view) of foster carers depends massively on the quality of the customer experience. I think many agencies impede their own efforts because they overlook, or do not have the resources to ensure this.
Marketing isn’t a dark art.
I’m sceptical about the value of the research described in the article because effective marketing is really just common sense: create a message of sufficient appeal and relevance, get it in front of your target audience, and offer a reason to respond now.
When someone comes forward to foster a child, there are powerful factors in play. It starts with the desire to make a difference, but that altruism can be fatally dampened if a fostering applicant’s generous offer of help is not reciprocated with an enthusiastic, professional and prompt response.
Fostering agencies must then maintain a deeply attentive customer experience throughout the lengthy assessment process if conversion rates are to overcome attrition and ensure placement sufficiency.
Here some fostering agencies fail spectacularly. Lack of funding is not the whole picture (though oft cited as such). Having worked within a number of businesses whose success depended upon the quality of client service, I feel I am in a position to take inventory here.
Silo seems to be the hardest word.
Local authority fostering agencies are usually comprised of a team of social workers whose function is to support existing foster carers with their day to day needs as they look after the children entrusted into their care, and to assess new foster carers to replace those who leave.
Some agencies split their fostering team into individuals who support existing carers and others who assess new ones. Other agencies have a team of workers who each have responsibility for both functions.
My observation, coupled with feedback from colleagues across the sector, lead me to strongly favour the former, split team, structure, and I offer two compelling reasons for this:
A social worker with both responsibilities is discouraged to perform assessments swiftly, for the conclusion of such work results in another addition to their already busy caseload.
The skills required to effectively support foster carers are not the same as those needed to sell the fostering profession in a highly competitive marketplace (with some 700 fostering providers).
Whilst the fees earned and allowances paid to foster carers will always offer some attraction, in the words of my sister, a foster carer of several years:
‘I don’t do it for the money, but I couldn’t do it without it.’
So our task is twofold: to effectively sell the career proposition, and to give applicants a reason to choose one agency over another, or: ‘here’s why you should foster, and here’s why you should choose us’.
An applicant’s choice will depend upon what they have heard and what they feel about each agency they approach. Foster carers are enthusiastic networkers, and will spread the word about how much they are valued and supported (or not) by their agency. Since word of mouth continues to be the main source of new applications, for fostering agencies, reputation is everything.
There are hundreds of fostering agencies all doing the valuable and life-changing working of matching vulnerable children and young people to families that best meet their needs. Some do it better than others. Ofsted regulates them all, and judges their performance.
As each agency competes for the attention of hopeful foster carers, the collective chaos of fostering messages confuses and overwhelms. It results in dismal response levels, whilst agencies continue to flog such dead horses as regional press adverts.
I have facts galore to substantiate this, and I want to make this point to those who continue, like hopeful gamblers, to spend money on newspaper adverts: you cannot create a desire to foster in someone simply by advertising to them.
So, what is the answer?
Well, if your agency needs help to attract and recruit new foster carers, please contact me to discuss working together to develop an effective, results-orientated strategy that will cut through all the noise and generate more, and higher quality, enquiries from some of the most generously spirited members of society.
Sean Parry is a time-served, multi-award winning recruitment marketer. He has worked among all sectors, private and commercial, public, health, police, fire and rescue, third sector, and local authorities. Over 20 years, Sean’s affinity with the cause of looked-after children and young people drew him to work ever more closely with children’s services.
Initially this included large scale social work recruitment exercises, later leading towards fostering and adoption attraction and recruitment marketing strategies. Full details of his career, and the core carer recruitment support service that Sean now provides on a retained consultancy basis to fostering agencies can be found on his LinkedIn page.
If your fostering agency is looking for specialist support to recruit new foster carers, please get in touch on 07977 712712 or by email for an exploratory, no-obligation discussion. This will be followed up with a summary of your support needs, along with full details of how he can help, anticipated outcomes, and hourly rates. Testimonials of Sean’s work from former fostering agency clients are also published on this website.
Don’t forget to join us at Do Fostering on Facebook, now the country’s most popular fostering page, achieved in just two and a half years by Sean alone with an exceptionally limited budget—testament that effective, results-producing marketing had less to do with budget and more to do with developing a plan that works… and sticking to it!
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© Do Fostering Ltd 2017. All Rights Reserved. This copy is originally written and images used are bought under licence. The content of this page may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author, Sean Parry.