Part of the union

The North West has the largest shortfall in foster
carers outside of Greater London. The answer might be a regional
alliance for recruitment.

The value of fostering is clear. In England 61,000 children and
young people are looked after on any given day, of which more than
41,600 live with 32,000 foster families. Two-thirds of fostered
children return home within six months. And yet it has been
estimated that there is a shortfall of 8,200 foster carers in the
country. The North West has the biggest shortage outside of London
and needs 1,700 extra carers.

Last September, three small neighbouring councils – St Helens,
Halton and Warrington – decided to pool resources for a recruitment
campaign. “It worked so well that we thought the next step should
be to expand across the whole region,” says Joanne Fairclough,
marketing officer, adoption and foster care services, St Helens.
“We did some research and found that without exception we all
needed foster carers for sibling groups and teenagers and needed to
recruit white British and ethnic minorities.”

By March, 22 councils had agreed to take part with the launch set
for fostering fortnight (9 May). It was hoped that a regional
emphasis of working together would gain local media coverage. There
was a two-day radio special on fostering run by Greater Manchester
Radio but TV coverage remained elusive.

“It was very educational,” says Fairclough. “We made mistakes but
they were easy to spot. We had a stumbling block with TV because
they wanted to interview looked-after children and although we had
some willing young people, we were advised by legal specialists not
to use them.”

She adds: “We had no budget and relied on individual councils’
press offices. But this meant that press releases were treated as
local rather than regional issues.”

However, the lessons have been learned and the alliance looks set
to prosper. “We are now in a better position to seek sponsorship
and are negotiating the idea of each council putting in 10 per cent
of their recruitment budget for regional work. “We could hire
proper PR support for the campaign, which would give us much more
credibility. And, of course, we have to improve how we work with TV
companies. This also means overcoming legal barriers.”

With such a shortfall this new thinking might just do the trick. As
Fairclough points out: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’re
going to get what you’ve always got.”

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