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Blog: The science behind foster carer marketing and recruitment

Across the UK, there is a shortage of approximately 6,000 foster carers. Behind the statistics lies a story of children being denied a loving home because of family breakdown, a situation which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Never before has it been more important to attract foster carers who are prepared to provide a stable family environment and the guidance, love, and support that comes with the role.

For communication and marketing professionals in local government, there can be few more pressing needs, or better examples, in a ‘living with COVID world’ of how our job can bring life-changing impacts.

Yes, of course, for every child placed in foster care there is a saving of approximately of £25,000 compared to the cost of keeping a child in care. That saving reduces to around £10,000 if the child is placed through an independent fostering agency – heightening the need for councils to get better at in-house recruitment.

What is far more important is that children in foster care tend to have better outcomes when it comes to education and physical and mental wellbeing.

Over recent years we have seen council campaigns to attract foster carers becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their approach by using audience segmentation and targeted digital marketing tools. Women in the 40-55 age group are a key target audience. Many are ‘pioneers’ in value-based segmentation models, which means they are most likely to be community-minded and socially conscious.

Campaigns also make much better use of behavioural insight by understanding what is most likely to motivate and act as a barrier to people showing an interest. Authenticity and myth-busting through storytelling are essential ingredients. It is crucial to tell it how it is rather than portraying fostering as a fairy-tale where every placement has a happy ending. It is far better for people to be prepared and understand exactly what is involved, which means that the focus should be on generating quality rather than quantity when it comes to top applications.

The ‘M’ word is increasingly important because the financial reward, while never being the most important motivator, is likely to remove a perceived barrier. Interestingly, Hertfordshire County Council increased the number of foster carers recruited after advertising them as job vacancies in a way that recognises the financial compensation given for what can be a full-time job.

Building excellent working relationships between fostering and adoption teams and council communication and marketing teams is also a crucial step. For some, this means becoming partially embedded; for others, it is more about forming day-to-day working relationships so that both teams can work hand-in-glove at co-designing project plans.

One opportunity is fostering and adopting teams and their marketing colleagues to share insight about what is and isn’t working – and potentially share strategy and content too. After all, in days where resources are so tight, it makes little sense for each council to reinvent the wheel by developing their campaign strategies from scratch.

Next week a best practice fostering marketing, recruitment and retention event, brought to you by Westco Communications and Council Advertising Network, aims to do precisely that by putting the spotlight on what an excellent modern campaign approach looks like, not just from the perspective of comms folk, but from the standpoint of fostering teams too.

The hope is that it will be the first step into forming a regular ‘Fostering Campaign and Recruitment Working Group’ where teams can plug into shared research, strategy, content and evaluation hub.

If you work in a council fostering team or planning a campaign, this event is not to be missed. Sign up via the link below:

Best practice fostering marketing, recruitment and retention for local government
Thursday 29 July, 4- 5.30pm (FREE)

Simon Jones (@SimonDJones) is the Director of Communications at Westco


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