Outside London, the north west of England has the highest shortage of foster carers with a shortfall of about 1,500.
So, in an effort to encourage more people to consider fostering, in 2010, 23 councils across the region joined forces to coordinate a unique multimedia recruitment campaign using television, radio, print and social media. In October 2010, the You Can Foster campaign went live with TV and radio adverts.
Originally funded to the tune of £150,000 by the North West Improvement and Efficiency Partnership (which no longer exists), each council has now pledged a budget to ensure the campaign continues.
“We wanted to target those who had already been thinking about fostering but just needed a push to do something about it,” says Rachael Suthurst, a marketing officer at Rochdale Council who was seconded as one of the project leads.
The aim was to challenge the myths that make people think they can’t foster – such as being single, too old, living in a rented house, or in a same sex relationship. “The adverts showed different scenarios so people could recognise themselves and realise that they can foster,” Suthurst says.
In an unusual move real foster carers appeared in the adverts and the team decided not to use children. “We didn’t want adverts with sad children. We wanted to avoid empathy fatigue and for the adverts to be totally different,” Suthurst explains.
The television advert appeared on ITV Granada and Border and the same script was used for the 30-second radio advert which was broadcast locally. The You Can Foster website went live at the same time and a call centre was set up with a freephone number to deal with enquiries.
The campaign also featured adverts in regional magazines, a Facebook page where foster carers answer questions from people considering fostering and a Twitter account to publicise events. A Big Book of Fostering also toured the region, collecting stories from carers in each area, and went live on the website in May 2011.
Foster carers were consulted at every stage and it was a carer’s comment, “if you have room in your heart and your home you can foster”, that inspired the brand’s prominent heart and house logo.
The innovative campaign has already been a huge success, Suthurst says. Although it is still early days and the team have only just started to evaluate progress, by the end of 2011 there had been over 3,200 enquiries from prospective foster carers, half of which came directly from the TV advert. If just half of these go on to be approved, there would no longer be a shortage of foster carers in the north west. So far 120 new carers have been approved, with more awaiting approval.
The campaign, which was highly commended in the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Excellence Awards last year, has also delivered savings for all 23 councils.
“This is the first time councils have worked together on a campaign of this type and scale,” Suthurst says. “It has put us in a better position in a competitive market and has reduced expenditure on placements with independent fostering agencies, saving £17,000 per placement, per year.”
Guide to foster care placements