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Research report – Foster Care Recruitment and Retention

Two boys laughing wearing blue shirts - hero image or Rapid Review Foster Care Recruitment and Retention April 2024

The Centre has released its Rapid Review: Foster Care Recruitment and Retention report which has been prepared in response to concern from foster care service providers and the Victorian
government about the declining numbers of foster carers available to provide high-quality care to children and young people in need of a nurturing home environment. This decline, while demand for home-based care continues to grow, is a global phenomenon.

The Centre has undertaken the review to identify promising and proven approaches and programs being implemented internationally and in Australia to recruit and retain foster carers. The focus has been on those strategies which have encouraged foster carers to commence fostering and to remain in the system supporting children in the carer’s home.

The review looks briefly at the profile of children in foster care and the profile and motivations of foster carers. A key gap in the literature is the voice of children who have been in foster care and their perspectives on what makes a stable and functioning foster care family. The voices of carers are captured in some studies although generally indirectly and often in research involving small numbers
of participants.

In relation to recruitment, the review found that one of the most successful mechanisms for attracting foster carers was through ‘word of mouth’. Foster carers who are already in the system who have been well supported by professionals and are finding caregiving satisfying, are a critically important means of attracting new foster carers. The review also identified a number of innovative approaches which have led to successful recruitment of foster carers in different jurisdictions.

The literature shows that the primary motivation for taking on foster care is altruistic in nature. While financial considerations are not a significant factor attracting carers initially, financial costs can play a role in the decision to continue or not to continue fostering once in the system. Other factors affecting recruitment and retention of foster carers include the relationship between professional and carer and the extent to which the carer is treated respectfully and as a pivotal member of the decision-making team working to support the child. Studies show that entry into foster care can be enabled or hindered by the carer recruitment process of government and agencies. One consistent finding in relation to the generally low conversion rate from inquirer to foster carer is that the accreditation process is intrusive, overly bureaucratic and protracted, exacerbated when a prospective carer feels unsupported by either professionals or agencies.

Factors affecting retention include the level of satisfaction a foster carer experiences, their family circumstances, the level and quality of the support provided by professionals, the availability of respite care, adequacy of financial supports, availability of professional support during critical events and how well they have been prepared for fostering in general and for the particular needs of the
child in their care. The literature varies in the weight given to the impact of children’s challenging externalising behaviours on the decision to withdraw from fostering.

The review outlines a range of successful or promising programs and strategies which have been used to recruit foster carers and looks at ways in which governments and agencies have sought to retain carers. There is limited research on the quality of foster care itself and the research which does exist shows considerable variability in parenting approaches and children’s outcomes

Download the full report here.

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