Up and down the country, local authorities are working hard to find foster carers for children who have been taken into care. The Fostering Network estimates that a further 7,180 foster families are needed in the next 12 months, in order to ensure all fostered children can live with the right family for them.
This might suggest there aren’t enough people who are willing or able to become foster carers. But we don’t think this is true and have been working with some local authorities to design solutions that offer an alternative future for fostering.
By focusing on improving the application process and how councils could share information, we can start to make a big difference to the number of people who can care for looked after children.
Consistent and clear communications
Local Authorities aren’t marketing agencies. If they’re lucky, they might have a dedicated communications person in their fostering team. For compelling, targeted marketing, many will need to either commission people who live and breathe the craft of advertising and good content design or invest in their staff.
In the meantime, it’s essential to make sure all communications are consistent and clear so that when people find out about the role, they get the same message from the website to the call handler and recruitment events.
Digital channels allow messages to be tested by communicating more than one version of a content piece at a time. Marketing campaigns should be measured using analytics and tracking so that the team know exactly which messages generate the highest quality interest.
Making the application process more seamless and transparent
People who enquire about becoming a foster carer need to be contacted promptly. Many foster carers we speak to simply choose one authority over another because they were the first to get back to them — the bar is pretty low.
It can take up to 8 months for people to apply to become a carer. This includes detailed checks into their personal lives, so the process should feel seamless and transparent.
In Hackney, we’ve been working with the fostering team to develop a prototype that demonstrates what a digital application could look like. Currently, applicants have to complete a long paper application form. It’s not uncommon for people to get stuck and submit incomplete applications to the team.