In our last post, we talked about how we approached developing and delivering a new recruitment journey for foster carers, and what each stage of the process involved. This time we will explain each ‘project’ in more detail and how we got to where we are now.

1. Website content – drawing people in and supporting them to take action

From our research, it was clear that the information on our website could benefit from improvement so that potential foster carers could feel engaged, informed and ready to start their fostering journey. We held interviews with foster carers, carried out competitor analysis and created empathy maps and personas to understand what information users needed from the website.

Based on this, we re-designed the fostering webpages. We:

  • developed a showcase page that would act as a ‘home’ page to draw people in and cater for different journeys. This is much more visual than the previous version (now including a video as well), and is also much more flexible so that certain elements can be moved or added according to current events and campaigns
  • found that users were interested in the experiences of real foster carers as their stories brought the fostering journey to life. We created a new area on the fostering showcase page to highlight ‘profiles’
  • included a new ‘call to action’ banner so that potential foster carers could easily get in touch with the fostering team if they were ready to start their fostering journey
  • improved content on the different types of fostering and the requirements of a foster carer so that users can be more informed, even before they contact the fostering team
  • highlighted the strengths of fostering with Stockport Council with a dedicated ‘Why Us?’ Section to emphasize the high level of support and connectivity to other services that come with fostering for a local authority

2. Online enquiry form – making first contact casual and easy

Part of the new online journey was also to refresh the online form people use to get in touch. One of the first things we did was to rethink what the ‘call to action’ message would be, choosing ‘get in touch’ as a welcoming, low commitment message.

We wanted to remove any barriers people might face when first making contact online, especially because the final decision to start the fostering process follows a long period of thinking/consideration and is a common highlight in the user journey. We now ask less intrusive questions, have a shorter and straight to the point form, and have clear guidance on what is expected and what we use the data collected for.

“What I’d actually do is do research on the internet first through various sites and then obviously come to the council website … there would be some time between that and then registering the interest.” 

Quote from testing with the general public

3. Open evenings – getting people invested in the journey

We noticed that fostering open evenings (where people interested in fostering meet the team and others like them) were the second highest drop-off point along the journey.

We observed a few sessions and, combined with the feedback from foster carer interviews, decided to refresh the format. We wanted to create a more casual, interactive environment, test how we could differently deliver key information to the audience, and build a greater sense of community to encourage foster carers to continue with their journey.

Changes the fostering team have done so far include the set-up of the session as a discussion circle (rather than a presentation), inviting people who have experienced being in foster care themselves to speak and having more of a panel style discussion between social workers and the guest speakers. Benefits of these changes are hard to quantify, but some shifts have been noticeable by the team.

“The change that I have seen the most benefit from is changing the formal seating plan to one of a learning/discussion circle. This has enabled participants to feel more relaxed and therefore be more involved in an open communication process thus learning more.” 

Recruitment social worker who hosts open evenings

4. Case Management – helping the fostering team provide a great service

It was clear that fostering is an emotional, relationship building type of journey (rather than a transactional one). To make potential and existing foster carers feel valued and supported, the team needs to be on top of these relationships and manage them effectively.

The EIS case management system the team were using was scheduled to be phased out, so we took the opportunity to implement something that would help them to work more proactively and efficiently. 

The Verint system that we chose was already being used by other services within the council, and although there are some details yet to be ironed out and more training to be done, it seems that some benefits are starting to show. The system now links to the online enquiry form, provides email templates, has better reporting and tracking capabilities, and speaks to the external user-facing area in My Account  (see 5. below).

“Amazing compared to what we’ve got.”  

Fostering Service lead, after a walk-through of the system before going live

“Hopefully will streamline the enquiry process and allow for data to be entered (ie open evenings) which EIS did not allow us to do.” 

Recruitment social worker, after initial training

5. Fostering area in My Account – making the application process more modern and transparent

To allow the user to feel more involved in the process of becoming a foster carer, we are currently designing an online self-service area through My Account (a personalised online area for council services). This will give potential foster carers a secure online area to prepare for certain steps, tell us more about themselves and allow them to track the progress of their fostering journey.

The system will enable both single and joint applicants to complete the first part of the process to becoming a foster carer in their own time at home or on the move. This will also give social workers a better opportunity to familiarise with the enquirer before their first home visit. Again, we tested this with several people as we went along, continuously refining the design and flow.

“The more you give people information and empower them to understand the process, the more likely they are to give you something.” 

Foster carer, when testing the first paper prototype of the journey

“I’d dip in and out, and that’s what I’ve been doing anyway on bits of paper, so this is much more together.” 

Foster carer, when testing a more refined prototype

We learned so much by delivering these ‘projects’, creating new reusable capabilities along the way and better understanding the potential of some of our products (our website, My Account and Verint) more.

“Working with the digital team has been a challenge and a pleasure. ‘2 worlds collide’ springs to mind. Having developed a common language I have been amazed at how quickly the DbD team have gained an in-depth understanding of the fostering task and the challenges we face in recruitment.

The updated web pages are welcoming and informative. The enquiry process simple and intuitive. Involving applicants in the assessment process from the onset will really enhance the customer journey.”  

Fostering Service lead

Working on fostering has also given us the opportunity to try many new methods and tools, some becoming an exemplar to other current and future projects. They have included things like: running an in-depth/holistic discovery, exploring flexibility of ‘design’ roles, new ways of user testing whole journeys, testing the HEART framework for measuring ‘benefits’, creating new templates (project vision, to-be journey/service model canvas), and using Microsoft Sway and Miro boards to communicate and visualise the journey.

If you’d like to know more about this project, please do get in touch.