1. Why choose a career in fostering?
On an annual basis fostering services collectively invest millions of pounds to promote their need
for foster carers, process applications and support foster families in their role. It is estimated
that each new foster family costs £11, 500
to recruit (this includes spending on advertisements,
preparation training and assessment time). Fostering services are continually looking for
ultimate success in their recruitment of foster carers - they are looking for a magic solution to
the continual shortage of foster carers. However, to be truly successful at recruiting the foster
carers of the future we need to be confident that we are encouraging people into a service that
they would want to join.
In 2004 the Fostering Network announced a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in the UK. This was
based on a survey of local authorities with the specific intention of identifying how many additional
foster families were needed on top of the current pool to be able to offer all children and young
people in care placement choice.
Providing placement stability and finding a foster family that can meet the needs of all looked-
after children first time is at the centre of a fostering service’s objectives.
What are we offering foster families?
The Fostering Network recently carried out surveys as part of our new campaign,
. We asked foster carers about their views on payments, support and learning and
development opportunities. The feedback from our members showed a very varied picture across
the country. Most worryingly, the surveys found a significant number of foster carers stating that
they had considered ceasing to foster in the past year or two. 40 per cent of foster carers had
seriously considered ceasing to work for their fostering service due to a lack of support
per cent seriously considering giving up fostering because it does not provide a living wage
Without improving what is offered to foster families, the sector will continue to find it very difficult
to attract enough people to fostering.
Furthermore, the task of fostering can be very challenging. Foster families look after children
with a whole range of needs and with challenging behaviour. Caring for children on a day-to-day
basis requires hard work and dedication and foster carers benefit from round the clock,
accessible and flexible support from their fostering service.
Therefore, central to any fostering service’s success in the recruitment of foster carers is the
‘product’. By the product we mean everything we are offering to and expecting from people when
they embark upon a career in fostering. If fostering services are serious about recruiting foster
carers they need to be confident they are making the proposition as attractive as possible. The
appendix looks at a range of support and services that are invaluable to foster families, without
which fostering services will continue to struggle to attract and retain sufficient numbers of
Tapsfield, R and Collier, F
The Cost of Foster Care
(The Fostering Network and BAAF, 2005)
Getting the Support they Need
(The Fostering Network, 2009)
Love Fostering – Need Pay
(The Fostering Network, 2010)
Six out of 10 fostering
services did not meet
target in 2008-09.
Nearly half of fostering
services reported having
difficulty recruiting people
from specific minority
ethnic groups in 2008-09.
Are there enough people out there wanting to foster?
Although we know a lot still needs to be done to invest properly and fully in fostering, fostering
services report significant interest from the public. Respondees to the recent survey carried out
by the Fostering Network shared that nearly 15,000 people had contacted just over 35 fostering
services in 2008-09 (this figure included a substantial number of enquiries to three of England’s
largest county councils and two of the largest independent fostering providers with offices across
Although general interest in fostering appears to be high,
fostering services are finding that very few enquirers progress
to become an approved foster family. Worryingly recruitment
targets are not being met by many fostering services.
Fostering services reported a number of reasons for not
managing to recruit foster carers during 2008-09. The top three reasons were:
1. Lack of applications from suitable people.
2. Applicants with unsuitable accommodation.
3. Staff shortages so unable to process applications.
Lack of applications from suitable people
It is true that most people considering fostering are motivated by a desire to help children, and
this will be at the root of any decision to foster. However, whether or not they have the skills and
qualities to foster is another matter. New applicants to fostering have to demonstrate that they
meet induction standards and will follow a development plan supported by their supervising
social worker. They will also be working with children with often challenging behaviour alongside
a team of other professionals. Fostering is not for everyone and we need to be even more clear
about who we do need and attract them to the profession by rewarding and supporting them
Fostering services also reported not being able to find enough people
to come forward from certain minority ethnic communities. A quarter
of fostering services had set goals which varied from specific targets
to just trying to recruit people from as wide a range of ethnic
backgrounds as possible. Fostering services reported acute
shortages in some instances, and mentioned the challenges of finding
foster carers in response to a recent, often unexpected, recruitment
need often linked to refugee and asylum seeking children.
Applications with unsuitable accommodation
Fostering services, particularly in urban areas or areas of deprivation, are struggling to find
enough people to come forward to foster who have sufficient space in their homes. Applicants do
not always understand that it is inappropriate for a looked-after child to share a room with their
Furthermore, a recent survey of over 300 current foster carers carried out by the Centre for
Social Justice revealed that 55 per cent were aged 35 to 54 and living in two parent families
finding resonates with other recent studies and is a cause for concern for fostering services;
developments in British society mean that fewer households can afford not be working and are
able to offer a bedroom to one or more foster child, especially as a greater number of children
are staying at home with their parents well into their 20s.
There is a national shortage of social workers and some posts in fostering services are currently
vacant. There is also not always sufficient funding to staff teams at the level required to process
applications to foster. This can mean that applicants are put on hold or assessments take many
months to complete, with social workers having to prioritise other aspects of their role. This could
also have an impact right at the very early stages with initial enquiries remaining unanswered.
Getting our message right
How people are encouraged into fostering in the future is definitely going to be a challenge.
Focusing exclusively on children in promotional materials and communication tools is not
Fostering services should spend time talking to their foster carers about what attracted them to
fostering, as well as what keeps them fostering and what would put them off. After all they
decided that they wanted to foster children and may be able to help identify what will work in
encouraging other people.
It is important to challenge and break down the preconceptions/stereotypes held about fostering,
without alienating current foster carers and offending children and young people in care.
In 2007-08 the Fostering Network, funded by the Children’s Workforce Development Council,
commissioned market research to help identify how to encourage more people into a career in
. It found that the way the task of fostering is communicated is essential for motivating
The findings recommended that:
In order to tackle the challenge of getting enough of the right people to come forward we need
to portray a realistic but not offputting view of fostering. By knowing more about who we are
good at attracting and who is more likely to be a committed foster carer, we have more
chance of success.
Promotional work needs to highlight why people could be good foster carers and get people to
consider fostering in the first place. A lot of promotional materials assume that people are
already thinking about fostering.
Couldn’t Care Less
: A policy report from the Children in Care Working Group (The Centre for Social
Justice, 2008) www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk
Fostering: recognise the qualities you’ve got (The Fostering Network, 2008)
55 per cent of fostering
services reported losing
10 per cent or less of
their fostering households
Just over half of fostering services
achieved a net gain in the number
of fostering households in 2008-09.
Fostering services could be more successful if they thought more about who they really
needed – profiling current and potential foster carers and considering their core values and
motivations to help devise a recruitment message.
It is a good idea to focus communication on emphasising the skills and qualities needed to be
a good foster carer.
Word of mouth remains the most successful recruitment tool as foster carers can share what
they do, their status in the community and the rewards (both emotional and financial) they
gain from providing foster care.
Applicants need supporting and motivating throughout the whole journey from initial interest
through to contacting the fostering service and eventually going on to be an approved foster
How long do people stay?
Previous studies have identified that less than 10 per cent of foster carers cease fostering every
. Those foster carers who left spent an average of seven and a half years fostering, with a
quarter fostering for more than 10 years.
Retirements and ceasing to foster
The Fostering Network’s survey asked fostering services to tell us about the number of foster
families that left their service during 2008-09, and the reasons for this. 58 fostering services
provided data on the number of foster families that left, which amounted to nine per cent of their
Fostering services reported a range of different reasons for their
foster carers ceasing to foster. The most common was retirement (47
per cent), followed by personal reasons such as poor health (16 per
cent). Fostering services deregistered some foster carers (12 per
cent) and others (3 per cent) left because they were dissatisfied with
treatment by their fostering service.
In 2009 the Fostering Network published a report warning of an impending recruitment crisis as
two-thirds of the current fostering workforce is aged over 50
. It is essential that fostering
services regularly review their pool of foster carers and where possible anticipate when
retirements are likely to happen, either linked to the age of the foster carers or the ending of a
particular placement. It is important that supervising social workers keep the post responsible for
recruitment informed of potential retirements.
Turnover of foster carers
Often fostering services are only managing to maintain
their pool of foster carers – recruiting at best only as many
as the number who are leaving. In the recent survey,
fostering services were asked about the number of foster
households recruited in 2008-09 and the number which
left. Of the 30 fostering services that provided this
Triseliotis J, Borland M and Hill M
Delivering Foster Care
The Age of Foster Care
(The Fostering Network, 2009)
information, just over a half managed to achieve a net gain on their number of fostering
A fostering service needs to manage their available workforce and make sure that they are doing
all that is possible to encourage people to continue fostering for as long as they want to. The
length of the time it takes to assess a new family means that gaps are rarely filled quickly and
fostering services might find themselves deficient of resources for quite some time if they do not
keep on top of recruitment.
The importance of an exit interview must not be undervalued. It is essential to hear the views of
all those foster carers leaving a fostering service irrespective of the reasons for their departure.
By asking foster carers to feed back, a fostering service can explore ways to improve its provision
of support in the future.
There are a variety of different ways to ask for this feedback. For example, foster carers can be
invited to respond to a short questionnaire about their experiences with the service, or a
supervising social worker can carry out a short exit interview asking for feedback on a number of
key areas. Team managers and directors of fostering services also carry out exit interviews for
some fostering services.
What to cover in an exit interview:
Foster carer’s reason(s) for leaving the service.
Foster carer’s views on the support provided by the fostering service.
Discussion about possible ways in which the foster carer might continue to be involved
(depending on their reason for leaving).
Any recommendations from the foster carer on the future development of the fostering
Opportunity for the foster carer to feed back further in writing.
To get the most out of any exit interview it is important that the foster carer feels comfortable
confiding in the person to whom they are talking. Even if they have had a generally positive
experience with the fostering service, it is still helpful if they feel they can speak candidly about
their experience and that their views will be fed back to inform the future development of the
Only a third of fostering
services require the post
responsible for recruitment
to have a background in
2. The recruitment team
Fostering services with a dedicated recruitment post (regardless
of professional background) have more success in recruiting
. The skills set required by fostering services for this
post can vary hugely. In some instances this post is not a qualified
social worker and two-thirds of fostering services, as reported in
the recent survey, expect the post to have a background in or
experience of marketing. It is of course possible to develop skills
and gain experience in the role but fostering services have to be mindful of the wide range of
tasks expected of this post. If they do not directly have the experience the service should ensure
that they can call on the assistance of those who do. HR and marketing departments can provide
excellent advice and support.
Having a dedicated recruitment post has a range of benefits for a fostering service keen to
improve its recruitment of foster carers. These include:
Allocated time to focus fully and become experts on the task of recruiting foster carers.
Ability to take full responsibility for the recruitment of foster carers and ownership of the
strategy and process.
Availability of time to focus on the needs of the fostering service and fully research and
implement a strategic approach to recruitment.
Opportunity to free up time for colleagues to focus on their own roles, such as supervising
placements, handling placements of looked-after children and developing other areas of the
Time to develop contacts within the fostering service and the wider community.
The range of skills involved reflects the many stages of the recruitment process and the need to
work across the whole of the fostering service. It is essential that this post has links throughout
the fostering service and should not be working in isolation. It is useful for them to attend a range
of team meetings and to be kept informed about trends in the children needing foster care, the
use of the current pool of foster carers, the commissioning of placements with other fostering
services and colleagues recruiting to other posts in the children’s workforce.
Roles of the post responsible for recruitment
Fostering services have wide ranging expectations of the roles and responsibilities of the person
who has main responsibility for recruitment of foster carers. Core tasks include:
Writing, monitoring and evaluating the fostering service’s recruitment strategy.
Managing the recruitment budget.
Developing and producing promotional materials.
Promoting the need for foster carers in the local media and area.
Organising information sessions and other recruitment events.
Networking and outreach work with community organisations and groups.
Co-ordinating the fostering service’s approach to recruitment and motivating and keeping the
Improving Effectiveness in Foster Care Recruitment
(The Fostering Network, 2006)
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested