Derbyshire County Council has a well performing fostering service. However, each year more carers were leaving the service than were joining, increasing the Council’s dependence on independent fostering agencies.
Many of these agencies were set up to provide more expensive, specialist placements and were concentrated in pockets around the county. Over-reliance on these placements therefore not only added cost but often left children accommodated further away from their home networks.
The Council therefore wanted support to re-think their approach to fostering; from recruitment, through placement to retention. Aware of iMPOWER’s innovative and award-winning work in this area, the Director of Children’s Services invited us to help. The 20-month project was launched at the Council’s ‘Big Book Bash’ event for Looked after Children in the Summer of 2014.
Our fostering service was performing well, and was judged Good by Ofsted, but our staff and carers knew we could do more with the right approach. iMPOWER provided the insight, guidance and framework to harness all the energy and ideas we had through this really interesting project. It helped us to structure our thinking and come together with our fantastic carers to make a big difference. We are now continuing with that approach and seeing the benefits both in recruitment and how our carers are supported, as a council and by other carers.
About Family Values
iMPOWER’s Family Values programme helps councils to transform their fostering service by using behavioural insight to change relationships between the council, the community and carers.
This insight provides a framework to introduce new ideas to old challenges and to guide positive change where it sometimes seems intractable.
In the Family Values project, this involves facilitating agreement amongst carers and staff on the priority improvement opportunities, uniting them behind a case for change and then co-designing and implementing practical interventions which make the difference.
Ultimately this increases the number of in-house (council) foster carers, resulting in reduced costs (savings) and a higher standard of care for vulnerable children. Along the way it changes important cultures and relationships and better demonstrates Derbyshire’s knowledge that Derbyshire foster carers make a real difference to Derbyshire children in care.
As with all our Family Values projects, our work with Derbyshire was collaborative; we worked with senior management, the fostering team, foster carers, and the broader children’s services team. The energy comes from within and when iMPOWER leave it is in the knowledge that the outcomes are sustainable.
Three key ‘light bulb moments’ emerged:
- 80% of Derbyshire foster carers shared a specific values set, meaning that they had similar motivations and perspectives on what is important in how the Council engages with and supports them.
- Despite generating more interest (enquiries) in recent years, the conversion rate remained stubbornly low; at 6 per cent compared with an average of 11 per cent nationally.
- 30 per cent of carers didn’t agree that the council made them feel valued; carers wanted to be more involved in the service, making a difference not only through placements, but also by supporting recruitment and other foster carers.
iMPOWER’s analysis also showed that there was a mismatch in demand and supply, meaning that many Council carers were not willing or able to look after the children who needed care.
These insights, along with iMPOWER’s co-ordination, provided the basis for council staff and foster carers to come together and reimagine a better way of delivering fostering services and support.
The iMPOWER and Derbyshire teams set up four working groups through which carers and staff jointly prioritised, developed and delivered the plans to recruit and retain more foster carers:
- Talk Fostering – engaging the community differently to create more of the ‘right’ interest in fostering.
- Journey to Approval – transforming the enquiry and assessment experience of those applying to become carers, to sustain the motivation through to approval.
- Placements Experts – challenging and supporting carers to revisit their motivations for fostering and to safely care for children with different needs.
- Supporting and Valuing – working hand in hand with colleagues across children’s services to ensure carers are recognised and valued by the team around the child.
Using our values-based behavioural framework, each group agreed what outcomes to strive for, conceived of and planned new ways to achieve their goals and measured their success throughout the implementation. This focus on the numbers meant the groups could confidently try new things, learning and adapting as they went, and defining and celebrating success.
After an intensive period of support to set up the new ways of working and to develop change momentum, iMPOWER’s support tapered. And in a fantastic representation of the Council’s commitment to the principles guiding this work, project management was taken over by a local foster carer.
As well as bringing local experience and relationships to bear, this ensured that the Council could independently sustain the changes and performance, after iMPOWER’s departure.
Results and Impact
- The rates at which enquirers are converted to approved carers tripled for the new methods of enquiry generation and utilisation also increased by 10% as values-based reforms were introduced.
- A 25% increase in recruitment for 2015/16 (to 53 carers)
- A recruitment pipeline and run rate which projects an increase of between 50% and 100% for 2016/17 – that’s between 61 and 83 carers recruited.
- Expected annual savings of £1m – £2m by 2018/19 in addition to a service culture of carer-centred improvement and incalculable human benefits for Derbyshire children in care.
Whilst the savings are important and necessary, this work has changed perspectives, relationships and cultures.
It has unlocked a new approach to the optimisation of recruitment, utilisation and retention. It has provided a constructive way for the Council to engage with some of its most valuable people. But most significantly, it has provided more Derbyshire carers for Derbyshire children.
“Our aim is to enable Derbyshire children in Care to be ‘the best they can be’ and we know we need more Derbyshire foster carers to make that happen. Hence working with iMPOWER who brought their national knowledge together with ability to analyse our local strengths and needs, helped us make improvements – all informed by a better understanding of what is important for foster carers.“
– Mary Wilton, Head of Children in Care Provision
iMPOWER is a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.