More foster carers are needed in the UK today. Official statistics from the Fostering Network indicate that over 10,000 foster families are needed. Another research by Fostering Network found 82% of local authorities saw a rise in the number of children coming into care and needing foster homes in 2009-10. Family foster care provides substitute planned family care for children who cannot be adequately cared at the own home due to various reasons.
4.1 Foster children:
The number of children coming into foster care has become overwhelming over the years. But the fact is that it has become very difficult to find the families who are ready to meet the challenges of increasing complex behavioural, emotional needs these children experience.
SHORTAGE OF FOSTER HOMES
Source: Fostering Network Website
Chart 1a: National Breakdown: Shortage of Foster Homes in England, Scotland and Wales
SHORTAGE OF FOSTER HOMES IN ENGLAND
North West: 1700
North East: 1300
South West: 600
South East: 850
West Midlands: 650
East Midlands: 450
Source: Fostering Network Website
Chart 1b: Regional Breakdown: Shortage of Foster Homes in England
4.2 Motivations for foster carers:
Much research has been conducted on this issue as what motivates people to foster. It is very important to understand this key component because this may help to understand their needs and can be used as a tool in the marketing mix to recruit more carer. In 1996, Denby & Rindfleisch conducted a research on children and youth services. The research was conducted in order to understand what motivates a person to become a foster carer. Some of the findings were, “fulfilling the need for foster homes in the community, enjoying and wanting to help children, providing a companion for an only child and for oneself, increasing family size, obtaining substitute for a child who has died or who has grown and left home, religious reasons and supplementing family income” (Denby & Rindfleisch, 1996). Based on the findings of this research it is very clear that there are various factors that are involved for a person to become a foster parent.
4.3 Foster carer recruitment:
In the recent years, there has been a decline in the number of families able to provide foster care. When a child is identified in need of foster care, the problem of finding placement homes still remains very high. Some of the factors that are related to the shortage of foster carers may be due to the following reasons:
Greater difficulty in meeting the increasing complexity needs to become a foster carer
Lack of public awareness
The poor public image of faster carer.
With these issues, it has become difficult to recruit foster carer and has become an important and yet a challenging task. Recruitment of quality foster carer in an on-going demand for the agency.
4.4 Productive approaches 2008 – till date:
For the past 2 years, the enquiries generated by fostering solutions using the current marketing strategy have increased. Fostering solutions uses different methods of advertising to attract potential carers. These include bill board, bus, community care, exhibition, flyer, internet, job centre, jobs fair, local community booklet, national magazine, newspaper advertisement, passed office, post office, radio, tv, recruitment event, taxi, website, word of mouth, yallow pages etc (Fostering solutions).
Over the past few years, the recruitment focus was on the following factors:
To recruit carers through using fees, and other allowances.
Using messages such as “show you care” to reach the carers.
4.5 Recruitment outcome:
Table 3: FOSTER CARE RECRUITMENT ENQUIRIES – SOURCE OF INTEREST BETWEEN 01/09/2009 AND 04/08/2010
Local community booklet
Word of mouth
Out of these, the most successful advertisement medium for fostering solutions has been website with a total of 1071 enquiries followed by newspaper advertisement with a total enquiry of 761, followed by word of mouth with 494 enquiries between 01/09/2209 and 31/08/2010.
From the above table it is evident that the total number of enquiries during the period 2009-2010 is 3289, but the no. Of approval are only 126 out of 3289 enquiries. This is just 3.82% of the total enquiry. It is evident that 3289 people are interested to know about the fostering care. But the approval rate is very low.
Table 4: FOSTER CARE RECRUITMENT ENQUIRIES – SOURCE OF INTEREST BETWEEN 01/09/2008 AND 31/08/2009
Local community booklet
Word of mouth
Source: FS document
The total no. Approval between 01/09/2008 and 31/08.2009 was 163 and total enquiries received during that period was 3284. When Comparing the current year enquiries and approval rate with the previous year (i.e.) recruitment enquiry between 2008 – 2009 which was 4.96% of the total enquiry, it is clearly evident that there is a decrease in the approval rate when compared with that of the previous year. But we just cannot come to a conclusion that there is a decrease in the approval rate because some of the enquiries may still be in the approval process.
Table 5: Conversion rate
Conversion Rate %
Source: FS Document
Over the past two years, the conversion rate is found to be reasonably constant with
4.96% in the year 2008-2009 and 3.83% in the 2009-2010.
Chart 2: Enquiries in different region
From the above chart it can be seen that the number of enquiries received from each region varies to a greater extent. For example the highest number of enquiries was received from the midlands with a total of 396 enquiries. Where as on the contradictory there were lower enquiries from various other regions. The reason for so many enquiries in the midlands is because of the strong advertisement campaign with additional newspaper advertisement. Fostering solutions should focus on all the regions equally. This will help to increase the enquiry from different region.
The major problem which is to be considered right now is that the approval rate is very low despite there was 3289 enquiries between 2009-2010. This may be due to various reasons.
Advertisement ƒ Enquiries ƒ ROI ƒ Approval
With reference to the above given table, when an advertisement is made and when it is able to attract 3343 enquirers who have even the slightest idea of fostering has enquired the agency, it is clear that people are interested to know more about fostering. But somewhere as they move further in the process (i.e.) from enquiry to the next stage, the number gets reduced to a greater extent. This can be viewed as a result due to 2 reasons.
There may be a problem in the process from the enquiry stage until the next stage which is the registration of interest. Or
The agency is not targeting the right people.
In order to identify the problem in the process from the enquiry stage until the ROI, a study maybe conducted as what is going wrong in that process. It is very important to focus on this issue right now because the time and cost involved in marketing is very high. Considering that fact, the marketing strategy maybe of good type, but due to some bottleneck in the process, the marketing strategy may seem to be unsuccessful.
To successfully recruit the carers, the following objectives must be considered to meet the challenges that are associated with the recruitment activities. They are,
To recruit carers for different age group
To recruit carers for children with disability
To recruit a diverse range of carers to place the children to meet their best needs.
Recruit carers based on categories – long, medium and short term carers.
In addition to these objectives to recruit the carer, the fostering solutions should be the best choice for carers. In order to achieve such a position, the following factors plays important role
Benefit packages for carer- what fostering solutions can offer for both carer and young people.
Competitor awareness versus brand awareness of the agency.
Services provided before and after approval.
Raising awareness through advertisement – that carers are still needed , that fostering solutions values the carers, and to create a sense of feeling that they have made the right decision in selecting fostering solutions.
4.6.1 Plan of action:
In order to reach both regional and national audiences, the agency should continue to advertise a multi-layered approach of marketing. The message which the agency tends to convey to its audience must be clear and focused. The agency may use tools ranging from traditional to establishing its own marketing strategy through various opportunities that are available to raise the awareness of the people.
The traditional method includes the regular media advertising which the agency is currently involved and it has delivered results. It is now the right time to think of new opportunities of marketing through using the internet media such as web tools like Linked-in, Facebook, twitter, etc.
By using both the traditional and new methods, the agency can reach and cover a wide range of people from different regions, which will help to educate the people about the basic awareness and understanding about the need for fostering. This also helps to reach the target audience by giving them the information which they require.
4.6.2 Factors influencing the decision making:
There are several factors that influence the decision making of the marketing strategy. These factors help the agency to be alert by keeping them informed about the decisions of the potential carer and the way they react to the recruitment strategies and approaches that are used by the agency. A research maybe conducted in this area so as to find out the following:
What ultimately actuated the potential carer to pick up the phone and enquire about the services that are offered by the agency. This can be done through introducing marketing questions in the initial home visits.
Checking closely the effectiveness of all the resources that are used in marketing and making sure it is being efficient.
Look into the key areas where the potential carers drop out of the process. It is very important to understand this because, this will give an idea as the reasons why they drop out. This will in turn help to influence the potential carers to identify the drop out points. Through identifying the drop out points time and cost that are involved in retaining the potential carers can be kept under good control.
4.6.3 A change in the current communication tools
The information that are offered by the current communication tools are limited. That is the current communication tools which is paper based (information pack) gives idea from where the information is obtained.
Chart 3 : communication route
Phone Call & Postcards
This is the normal route through which the information flows from the agency to the prospective carers. This route does not offer flexibility for the carer. Which means the carers contact type preference, individual decision process are not considered in this route. Moreover, the person making a call to the agency maybe quite intimidating.
There should be a change in the current communication routes and channels whereby the routes are open up through which the prospective carer can gather information and be informed about the follow-up and the application process right from registration of interest until the approval.
Word of mouth
Face to Face contact at event
(Delayed decision) Direct phone and postcard
Proceed or Informed Influencer
Participants or Informed Influencer
4.6.4 ENGAGING THE COMMUNITIES:
To target the right carer, I suggest increasing the chances of finding successful foster carer through designing a planned strategy to engage the communities in foster care. By involving with the community there is more scope to create awareness and recruit many carers. To come up with such a strategy, it is very important to know the agency’s needs and lay down its priorities, thumb rules on how to come up with a specific message for the general public. By engaging with the communities, it helps to inform the public and the potential foster carers about the need for foster care.
The ultimate goal of the agency is to increase the number of qualified foster carers.
In any business concept, designing an effective marketing strategy is a means of trial and error. For a strategy to be successful, it has to be analyzed from various perspectives before it can be implemented. In such a way, before reaching a community for help in recruiting the foster carer, we have to know in particular the needs of the agency and the ways in which the public might be of help to the agency. By needs of the agency here refers to the big question “who is our target customer?”. To kick start this process of finding the target customer the following assessment maybe done by the agency.
Identifying the foster care population in a community
How many foster children are there in the community?
Their age group
Age group under one year
No. Of children (between 1-12)
No. Of teenager (between 13-18)
No. Of youngsters (over 18)
Based on the agencies past experience say for example previous 2-3 years, how many children does the agency expect will require foster care during the next year?
The racial composition
Identifying the foster carer population in a community
How many qualified foster carers are there in the community
Identifying the children in the community
Up to what extent the following elements contributed to placement of children in foster care
Mental illness of parent(s)
Poor parenting skills
Incarceration of parents
Children’s emotional or behavioral
Knowing the needs:
After the above mentioned needs assessment is reviewed by the staff, the agency can come to a specific needs conclusion. The next step may be to rank the needs. The rankings should be based on their priorities as shown below
To provide more adequate support for foster families.
To recruit foster parents for teenagers.
To provide better training for foster parents so they can handle
children’s special needs.
To recruit foster parents for teenagers.
To educate the public about the impact of welfare reform on children
in foster care.
Once the needs are prioritized, the next step is to develop a community action plan. This can be done through the following ways
4.6.5 Engaging the wider public :
At the national level, the foster care fortnight event is conducted by the Fostering networks helps to engage the wider public and to spread the awareness about the need for fostering and the young people at care. However, this may help to engage the wider public, the major drawbacks in these kinds of events is that the agency does not get the chance to engage directly with the wider public on the assumptions and views to inform how we move ahead to spread the awareness. In order to overcome this problem the agency may preferably engage with the residents from the communities to inform them about the messages and the promotional approaches of the agency through which the awareness of the need for foster care can be increased.
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This can be done through engaging services in a county wide arts and photography competition. This helps the agency to find out more ways to engage with the communities and encourage them to take part in fostering. The photography competition can be conducted through collecting pictures from different age group categories – young people in care, people who have experienced foster care. The competition must be judged by the agency; the winning photography must tour around the county and be visible in libraries and other common places for short period. A separate budget maybe required for this competition.
4.6.6 Working with the mass media:
Mass media is the most common and effective medium of advertising. However, for an advertisement to be effective through mass media, it is very essential for the agency to know what kind of information or message should be conveyed to the public. For example in the case of targeted recruitment, the focus is on the families where they can accommodate children and teens with specific needs. In this case community based recruitment would be very effective rather than a general media campaign. However, media campaign may be very effective and most suitable for general outreach.
Strategies for getting the message out to the public and spurring the community to take action.
4.6.7 Invite community leaders to help you get the message out:
Engaging with community leaders to spread the awareness is one of the best ways to reach the people in a particular community. This is due to the fact that the leaders may approach the public with a message which would be very effective rather than the agency conveying the message by itself. The community leaders may not have the special knowledge about the system of foster care as that of a social worker. However, what they do have is the ability to attract the public and press. It is very advantageous for the agency to form a link of network with the community leaders for they be very sympathetic the cause and would come forward to help the agency. These leaders may be invited to speak at the campaign events and they may be requested to mention about Fostering Solutions in their own events. In such a way the community becomes aware and lot of people might come forward to foster. The main advantage is that a minimal support from one community councillor or a child advocate can quickly raise the status of the issue.
4.6.8 Using the help of current foster parents:
The most effective means of advertising is to get help from the current foster carers to recruit more new foster carers. Gratified foster care parents are the better tool for recruitment and retention. The advantage of Working in with foster parents to increase recruitment will help to improve the retention as well. Foster parents can be of great help in the following ways:
Through sharing their personal experiences, the current foster carer may help the new foster carers to explain as what takes to be a good foster carer. This will also give an opportunity for the new foster carers to meet the children in care even before they get placed with a child.
The current foster care parents may help the new carers to complete the applications by way of providing pre-service anf training in collaboration with the agency.
The current foster carer may act as a middle man between the agency and the prospective foster carer by way of following-up with a phone call or a personal visit.
Through engaging with the current foster carers, the new carers may get individualized mentoring and it may in turn be a great motivation for both the new and the current foster carers.
4.6.9 Carer benefit package:
Carer benefit package may help to attract more carers. It is great way to communication through which the awareness can be increased. A detailed list of benefits and opportunities maybe listed, this will in turn help the prospective foster carers to take up fostering. The fact is that the more we offer and promote ourselves as the agency, the satisfied and happier will be our carers and are more likely to stay with us. This maybe one of the retention strategy. This strategy helps to gain competitive advantage over the competing agencies because, the carers are very happy with the benefit package. Regardless of whether the benefits are being used by the foster carers or not, the list of available benefits on the website maybe seem real and more tangible.
In order to implement the above mentioned strategies effectively, resources are very important keys.
4.7.1 Human Resources:
In the current organizational structure, the marketing department is very centralized. With the ambition of developing the marketing strategies for both the national and regional level, it is very important to increase the hierarchy level as shown in the above chart. In order to strengthen the regional marketing strategy a new post namely marketing assistant may be appointed region wise. The main work of this job will be to spread the awareness of fostering in their region and attract more carers. They will be reporting directly to the Marketing and public relations manager. The main reason to implement this change in the organization structure is because just having a marketing department at the head office will not work. Division of work is very essential in such cases. But for time being with limited resources, the main challenge is to stay focused in the priorities of the service that are provided by the agency.
Chart 4: Organizational Structure – Marketing Department.
4.7.2 Financial Resources:
To corroborate the current level of enquiries and conversion, it is essential to continue to invest funds in recruiting advertising. A sustainable budget allocation will help the agency to be efficient and effectively plan the time and resources which are very valuable. This will also help to improve response rate, and to reach all communities as well as effectively plan the response resources.
For long term planning, a planned annual budgeting will help to place the agency in a better position to cope up with the increasing preferential rates and spends of the promotional activity. There is also a need for the agency to invest in high profiled activities such as web advertising, website development and so on in order to maintain the profile of Fostering Solutions as the agency of choice for the carers.
Currently, Fostering solutions uses all feasible media which will enable the agency to touch the hearts and minds of many potential carers and make them aware about the need for fostering. More funds should be invested in the areas of community publications, editorial media and recruitment campaigns.
Considering the above discussed strategies the following maybe summarized as the strategic recommendations
4.8.1 Short term recommendations:
– Maintain year round awareness for the need foster carers across England, Scotland, Wales and in communities.
– As discussed in the strategy using the current carers and their positive stories of children will help to attract more carers and it also helps to retain the existing carers.(refer 4.6.8)
-Work with the community leaders to spread the awareness(refer 4.6.7)
– With reference to the conversion rate issue raised in this report, it is essential for the agency to conduct a study on the effective procedures that are implemented by the agency in the process of responding to enquiries and registration of interest with prospective foster carers. Because, this is where lot of people drop out. So it is essential for the agency to conduct a research and find out the reasons as why the conversion rate is very low. (refer table 5)
– As discussed in the resources, it is essential for the agency to have dedicated marketing staff at each regional office to make advertising more effective.(refer 4.7.1)
– With the help of the demographic information and analysis of the community assessment by the agency a better targeting of recruitment and advertising can be achieved.
4.8.2 Long term recommendations:
– As discussed in the short term recommendations, statistical data on foster carers maybe collected using the community assessment in order to make better recruitment decisions. This will help the agency to have a continued sustainable investment at national and regional level in the recruitment of foster carers.
– Have ongoing high quality campaigns across England, Scotland and Wales on both national and local level to attract more foster carers which will help to maintain enough carers to meet changing demands
– The agency should put as much effort in order to retain the foster carers as in recruitment. The agency should work on the factors such as carer benefit package, and other benefits that can improve the retention of foster carers. (refer 4.6.9)
– Develop a comprehensive foster care recruitment website to promote awareness and interest in fostering and permanent care
-Focus should be to improve local capacity through working in close relation with the communities in order to recruit locally