Foster Care: It’s time to change how we market fostering children
Tom Rowley MA
Every year the demand for foster carers increases and more children are left without the choice of matched foster placements. In March 2016 over 70,000 children were in the care of local authorities which is a number that experts expect to rise. This need for more foster carers suggests it’s time to start rethinking our attitudes towards attracting potential foster carers. This means changing the landscape of foster care marketing because the current culture hides the positive financial benefits in an idealistic attitude towards parenting.
It goes without saying that the welfare of a child must come first, so fostering agencies and councils have to value child welfare above all else. We should be comfortable with this – it reinforces a culture that minimises child abuse and tries to offer children needing safe care the same opportunities that they would receive in permanent homes. But the marketing space outside of fostering has denied the hooks it needs to attract more of those who would otherwise not be considering foster care.
It’s easy to say standing within our current culture that our attitudes are due to our priorities as adults, but the history of fostering and adoption suggests otherwise. Government regulations for foster care were enforced in the UK in 1926, but before this the UK was presented with the problem of baby farming. There were no contraceptives and the stigma of having a child out of wedlock was severe, so giving your child to another family for cash was all too often the easiest option. The government reacted to this phenomenon by passing acts that protected children and forced the local authorities to take responsibility. With this came undoing the connotations caused by illegal baby farmers and creating a culture that discussed adoption and fostering not as a financial venture but as a purely child-centric undertaking.
Today, agencies and recruitment services like Simply Fostering discuss finances at the first stride because it’s the most important aspect of fostering to consider at the outset – if you can’t afford to foster, you can’t apply. But if we’re drawn into fostering due to purely financial reasons, are we simply monetising children? The answer is a clear no and the question further complicates something that needs to be as transparent as we can make it. Acquiring more foster carers means engaging with people who would have not already fitted themselves to the foster carer’s template. So let’s make it clear: placing a child in the care of a new family can be financially and emotionally rewarding, benefiting the foster care service and in turn the children in need of quality foster placements.
The language of the foster care market tends to lean towards, ‘could you become a foster carer?’ ‘How do I become a foster carer?’ And whilst important questions, these are not sufficient to draw in more fostering applications. Perhaps too many of the public lack the information that foster care marketing takes for granted. This would mean that the marketing of foster care should treat fostering as both a lifestyle change and a vocation that can provide financial rewards well above the average national wage. Foster care marketing needs to be focused on those who would not have otherwise applied, and be clear that it’s okay to talk about money.
Focusing first on the lives, family and responsibilities of suitable people interested in foster caring and how or if they can afford to foster as the primary marketing strategy is important. It would not create a higher percentage of unsuitable foster carers as some might suggest, but it would mean that more people will be able to make informed decisions for themselves and their family based on really useful information.
By promoting the financial understanding of foster care as common knowledge we will have a society in which more homes otherwise unavailable to children will open up and even more positive futures will be created.
Copywriter and Editorial Assistant
A writer, editor and MA graduate