It’s Fostering Fortnight in the UK, which this year focuses on the potential for fostering to change futures. This has made me want to reflect on the work that IMPOWER recently undertook in Dublin, where our Family Values approach (which uses behavioural science to reshape the relationship between foster carers and local authorities) went ‘global’ for the first time. The big question I wanted to consider was this – how can we ensure that foster carers are as well-supported as possible when they make the huge decision to foster a child?
Working in Ireland highlighted notable differences to the UK; children’s services are provided by TUSLA, a national child and family agency which is accountable to Parliament and broken into several large geographical regions with diverse demographics.
However, some similarities remain. The cost of providing care to young people is increasing each year, Dublin is in the grip of a housing crisis which renders family homes out of reach for many, and TUSLA is struggling to recruit foster carers.
There were three key takeaways from our recent work, and all of them have wider relevancy:
- Motivations for foster carers are similar, regardless of location
Foster carers are overwhelmingly motivated by doing what they feel is the ‘right thing’. Rather than being attracted to fostering for its financial benefits, many of the foster carers we spoke to were motivated by a desire to give back to their community, or because of a personal experience that drove them to support young people. Considering how to use behavioural science to tap into this motivation, rather than simply providing any initial financial incentives, is key to successfully recruiting more foster carers.
- Enabling foster carers to meet and support each other is key
The importance of peer support came through in many of our conversations with foster carers. They wanted to feel like they were part of a community from the beginning of the application process, and even more so once they became foster carers. Creative thinking about how to give foster carers and the children in their care the opportunity to meet each other and share experiences would be welcomed. Many foster carers spoke of a desire to be able to support each other either like ‘normal parents’ through coffee mornings or having sleepovers with other foster children to offer respite, and a creative approach to risk could allow this.
- Recognise foster carers as partners in providing care
Despite foster carers being involved caring for children 24/7, they are sometimes not involved in meetings about the child they look after. This is a recurring theme both in Ireland and the UK. One foster carer said “I was told that ‘this was a meeting for professionals’ – and I wondered what that made me”. Foster carers provide essential, life-changing care for thousands of vulnerable children, and it is vital that they are viewed as partners to social work staff in delivering that care.
If you’d like to hear more about our Family Values approach, which to date has achieved impressive results with thirteen local authorities (and one Irish agency!), please get in touch.