Learning and sharing from what works to recruit foster carers


Last week I joined 70 colleagues from across the country at the LGComms seminar in Birmingham to discuss and explore what effective fostering recruitment looks like.

As well as several lively group discussions and input from independent specialists, delegates heard from five local authorities. Northamptonshire colleagues talked about their ‘One Thousand Pairs of Shoes’ campaign which has delivered strong results in a short timescale and been shortlisted in the 2019 LGC Awards campaign category. Leeds colleagues spoke about how traditional marketing still works for them, but how they’re integrating use of digital.

My Barnsley colleagues talked about their creative approach and how ‘hyper-local’ campaigns, led by carers, has resulted in higher enquiry volumes and conversion rates. Nottingham colleagues talked about shoes too…! How they put themselves in the shoes of prospective carers throughout every step of the recruitment journey and saw great results.

Since 2011, I’ve managed the Children’s Social Work Matters (CSWM) project. A collaboration of 15 authorities across Yorkshire and Humber that aims to attract more people in to a career/jobs in social work – challenges mirroring those of foster carer recruitment. From 2010-2017 I also led Kirklees Council’s fostering recruitment marketing strategy and campaigns. At the seminar I spoke about our insight led strategic approach - how we streamlined the process, became more ‘customer’ focused and changed our culture to one of working with people to ‘rule them in’.

Throughout the day we heard how authorities are embracing digital more and more, with Facebook cited the most effective platform still. With our communications budgets reducing year on year it’s more crucial than ever that we demonstrate we’re spending money effectively and evidencing it. Digital marketing is evolving at pace, it’s brilliant for measuring and evidencing results and, in my experience, and many others at the seminar, importantly it really does work in recruiting carers, but we still need to balance that with offline media given the demographics of different target audiences.

The biggest challenge I always found was measuring conversion in terms of pin pointing which channels resulted in approved carers. Adding to this challenge is that people think about fostering for a long time before taking action. For example a foster carer's story in the media may have planted the seed for someone, but it was say a video on Facebook four years later that nudged them to take action, simply because the time was right for them. Of course we all need to continually explore creative ideas, but for me, this demonstrates how important it is that despite financial pressures, we continue to invest in marketing - keeping fostering front of mind and dispelling the many myths that put people off getting in touch!

Whilst at Kirklees we jointly commissioned campaign creatives, videos and PR with Leeds - halving our individual costs whilst we each saw great results. Discussions at the seminar got me thinking about this and CSWMs partnership approach... We all have local pressures and targets and having different websites and processes etc. adds to the challenge of collaboration, but I’m certain we’d all benefit from working together more to help tackle the shortage of carers.

What do you think? Are you working with neighbouring authorities already? Maybe you’ve got some thoughts or ideas about how we could work more collaboratively in the future? If you have access to Yammer, please do put in a request to join the Local Authority Foster Carer Recruiters Group and get involved. It’s a great opportunity to share and crowdsource ideas and advice.

There’s another great platform to share ideas and learn from each other on Facebook. Just search for ‘Enquire Foster Carer Recruiters Group’ and put in a request to join.

All the seminar presentations are available to everyone (log-in and click on the folder 'LGcomms seminars' then you'll find each of the 7 x slide decks across 3 pages).

Karen Jones is Communications & Marketing Business Partner at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council.


Some useful resources

Five things that can help you recruit more foster carers (2019) LGComms blog: a perspective from the CEO of the UK’s largest dedicated fostering and adoption charity TACT.

Foster Care in England (2018) A Review for the Department for Education by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers

State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2019 - what foster carers think and feel about fostering, The Fostering Network

Fostering Future (2014) by iMPOWER Consulting Ltd which looks at the Values Modes system to aid with segmentation for foster carer recruitment

Why Foster Carers Care part 1 (2013) - how understanding values can transform relationships and improve services, DfE/The Fostering Network

Why Foster Carers Care part 2 (2014) – the values and motivations profile of newly approved foster carers, DfE/The Fostering Network

Research (2012) by the Fostering Network looking at the motivations to foster

Key issues in fostering: capacity, working conditions, and fostering agencies (2017) - House of Commons Library Briefing Paper

Posted on 1st February 2019