Foster carer recruitment
Muraya, Dorothy Neriah
This thesis presents the pursuit of a better experience of permanence and stability for children in foster care. In this case, permanence and stability is not about legal permanence but about relational and geographical permanence. It is about reducing the instance of unnecessary placement changes in foster care. Research has shown that instability in placements is linked with numerous negative outcomes for children as it compounds any emotional, behavioural, and educational difficulties they may already have because of their history. Instability also impacts their future placements. Research has also shown that foster carers are a key factor in children’s experience of permanence and stability. Having a diverse pool of carers who have the right characteristics and skills for successful placements is integral to successful matching which in turn has an impact on children’s experience of permanence and stability within placements. Foster carers are one of the most important resources in the care system, accounting for over 70% of placements for looked after children in England. Despite this, there is a very sparse evidence base on how this important resource is acquired. This study reports on exploratory research conducted to discover how foster carer recruitment is undertaken in England. The methods used included an online survey of recruiters in England (n=51), content analysis of fostering ads run on Facebook (n=62), a case study with a fostering agency and another case study with a campaigning agency. The case studies involved interviews with 2 recruiters and one agency founder as well as interviews with 3 recently approved foster carers. These methods hold unique strengths that also complement each other’s weaknesses. The survey of the entire population presents vast data while the case studies provide rich detail. On the other hand, content analysis of the ads eliminates response bias by analysing recruitment material. The resulting data provides multiple layers of perspectives to the research findings. Although there is a scarcity of research on fostering recruitment, this study draws from research in multiple disciplines to fill in the gaps in literature, resulting in an ‘inter-disciplinary banquet’. This includes significant research in social marketing on effective techniques for fostering recruitment. It also draws on known information on the experience of fostering, motivations and barriers to fostering, current placement needs, and the traits of successful foster carers. This knowledge drives the discussions on current recruitment practices and how effective they are in recruiting the right carers. In addition to discussions on the efficacy of current practice, the study takes on a descriptive element, describing the landscape and process of fostering recruitment as revealed in the data. Drawing from Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model, this study describes the various levels of influence in a potential carer’s world and how recruitment influences each of these levels. The author’s own three-phase model is used to describe the very intricate process of fostering recruitment from introduction to exploration and finally, training and assessment. Each of these phases holds unique characteristics and involves different forms of output and approaches from recruiters. The two novel models are an innovative contribution to the field, opening it up to new ways of conceptualising foster carer recruitment. This study challenges current recruitment practice, arguing that recruitment should include the very same factors that make a fostering placement successful; being supportive, relational, and being aware of the individual needs and traits of carer. A common thread throughout the thesis is the need to recruit ‘the right carers. The criteria for who is ‘right’ is based on the types of placements the agency needs which includes the need for increased diversity for cultural matching as well as the need for carers who can take in children with special needs or sibling groups. Fulfilling one of the functions of exploratory research, this study provides a foundation upon which further research can build upon. As mentioned earlier, there was a strong multi-disciplinary nature to the research and perhaps that is more representative of practice in the ‘real world’. Future research and practice would benefit in drawing from various fields such as marketing, public health and even customer relations. Foster carer recruitment may seem to be an unlikely solution to instability in care, but this study invites practitioners to consider its potential to improve children’s experience of permanence and stability in foster care.
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