Kate is a child who can't live with her family at the moment. She needs to be cared for while her family sort out some issues. And Kate is not alone. In 2014, around 5,500 children in Scotland needed to be cared for away from their families by foster carers.
Foster carers are recruited in many different ways, using many different messages. These messages can convey mixed ideas about whether fostering is a job or a vocation. Also thrown into the messaging mix are some myths which make this is a confusing landscape for people interested in becoming a carer.
Common misconceptions include:
'Surely I must need to have been a parent to know how to parent?'
'I wouldn't be able to foster because I'm single.'
But one thing is certain – carers of all shapes and sizes, of all backgrounds and marital statuses can help children who need to be looked after away from their family home.
The real challenge facing local authorities trying to provide kids like Kate with a good home is attracting good foster carers. East Renfrewshire Council is one authority who decided that their foster carer recruitment campaign required a revamp. The Council recognised that they needed a bigger pool of carers to have the best chance of meeting each individual young person's needs. They wanted to keep East Renfrewshire children in the local area, and to do that they needed to extend the East Renfrewshire family.
Currently, many of the children requiring foster care in East Renfrewshire have to move out of the area. Local foster carers are in short supply, yet East Renfrewshire recognises that young people need the familiarity of their local school, their peer group and local community during stressful periods when they are not in their family's care.
So the Council asked local residents to help with the campaign. They asked what questions people might have about becoming a carer. By taking the time to ask, the Council found out that local residents wondered what support they would have, what the assessment process would be like, what the young people were like, and what experience they had to have to become a carer. Local people also said they would be interested in talking to an experienced foster carer to find out more.
The Council then used this valuable feedback and the questions raised to redesign their website. They asked existing looked after children and carers about their experiences of fostering and used their responses in the website too. The words of the carers were used to demystify the role, and to dispel the myths. And now, the message being shared is that the most important attribute of a foster carer is a genuine regard for the welfare of children. The Council hopes that this simple and positive message will help to attract more people with the right values to become foster carers. That way, kids like Kate will have a much better chance of being looked after as part of the East Renfrewshire family.