What does effective foster carer recruitment look like?

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Are you involved in foster carer recruitment marketing? Help shape our upcoming seminar on the topic by completing our short survey


Easily the most humbling and inspiring hour I’ve spent working in local government was listening to a foster carer talking about his experiences to potential new recruits.

He told the audience that, even if sometimes only for a fleeting moment in a child’s life, knowing that he had contributed something positive eclipsed any of the tricky moments.

We know that recruiting foster carers (and holding onto them) can be tough. It’s the perennial marketing challenge for many local authorities, plugging away year after year. We do so because of the win-win outcomes it can support for both children's lives and council finances.

Where councils don’t have enough in-house foster carers to provide local placements, independent fostering agencies (IFAs) help to fill the shortfall.

As the LGA highlighted in July last year: “Independent fostering agencies (IFAs) have a vital role to play in the fostering sector, in particular through the provision of specialist placements. However, there is tension between councils and some IFAs due to concerns around the cost of IFA placements, and practices such as the use of ‘golden hellos’ by some IFAs to attract local authority foster carers.

“Many councils report that an IFA placement can often cost twice as much as an in-house placement. In addition, it has been reported that a small number of IFAs are making profits of £40 million in a year from fostering that we believe should instead be invested in support for vulnerable children.”

It can feel like a zero-sum game and a marketing arms race as local authorities compete with IFAs to attract new foster carers, whilst simultaneously boosting their coffers through placement fees.

According to the Foster Care in England review published by the Government back in February: “Much recruitment practice looks a little old fashioned with many local authorities continuing to use traditional recruitment techniques sometimes confined to print, billboard and bus advertising. But we found some good examples of more modern, more imaginative and more effective recruitment practice.”

Whether or not that represents a fair assessment of the overall picture is unclear. But what is clear is that councils need to consider how they manage their whole end-to-end recruitment journey and customer experience. Analysing and continually improving conversion rates at every recruitment stage, as well as understanding how to keep hard-won carers on their books.

Given the resources that councils collectively spend on foster carer recruitment campaigns, doing more to share our knowledge and experience can only help.

That’s why LGcomms are planning a seminar early next year to do exactly that. It would be great to get your help to shape this by completing this short survey.

Meanwhile in the spirt of sharing, here’s some reflections from Amy Ricketts, Service Designer at FutureGov:

Solving the problem of not enough foster carers: Part one

Solving the problem of not enough foster carers: Part two

Phil Avery is Head of Communications at Swindon Borough Council and also a member of the LGcomms Executive Committee.

Posted on 22nd October 2018