In NSW there are 20,000 children who have been removed from their families due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or some other serious safety concern. These children need to live with foster families.
There is a significant shortage of foster carers to look after for these children. In NSW alone, an additional 660 foster carers are needed to meet the demand (NSW Family and Community Services, 2017)
There is a particular shortage of carers who are able to provide short-term and emergency care. As a result approx. 140 children are living in motels across NSW on any one night (Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies, 2017)
As part of a project with Fostering NSW and UTS, Scintilla undertook research relating to the communities awareness of Foster Care. The focus of the project was twofold, firstly establish the level of awareness and need of foster care across the community and secondly establish a base line for potentially increasing foster care within NSW.
Our research begun by exploring the nature of foster care and the relevant awareness that foster care has within the community. Initial exploration through the development of mind maps, actor mapping, literature research and surveys was conducted in order to establish context and scenario understanding. Based on this research a deeper understanding of the prevailing issues and community awareness allowed us to develop a number of hypothesis which were then tested through community interviews and surveys. Synthesising this research allowed us to develop a number of insights and helped establish a foundation and direction with which we could develop campaigns to increase community awareness of the need for foster care.
Ignorance of foster care – Little to no awareness of what foster care is, why it is needed, the support offered to foster carers and that there is an urgent need for foster carers. Most of the barriers to becoming a carer are myths e.g. financial burden, need to own a house, need to be married, etc. those in the community have never seen ads or campaigns. The more information people were given about the problem, the more likely they were to indicate interest.
Attitudes – Gender bias, self-doubt, fear, individualistic attitude and culture (macro influence)
Perception – Language is particularly powerful – negative, scary, difficult to understand, outdated, technical, jargon, people don’t identify with the word caring (e.g. males, looking after an older or ill person). Time intensive, high commitment, burden, expensive.
Secondary research has also found that word of mouth is the more powerful marketing strategy and a lot of people state they have never considered becoming foster carers because no one asked.
In order to address this problem the community’s ignorance, attitudes and perception of foster care needed to change. A campaign centred on ‘A Children’s Champion Network’ was developed. Here uninformed and potential foster carers are given a sense of purpose, assurance and connection by increasing engagement with the community and various foster care agencies. A number of initiatives (online community, community of volunteers, mentorship and training and awareness campaigns) were offered and considered as part of the implementation program.