Moving communication from broadcast to conversation
Our foster care team is always looking at ways to give foster carers information to support them and here’s summary of what we’ve done to shake up how foster carers talk to us (Monmouthshire council) and, more importantly, to each other.
What we did
At the beginning of the year I met the team to discuss how to give foster carers the ‘online bulletin board’ they’d asked for.
We could have spent time and loads of money trying to develop a website where we post documents and announcements that would be useful to foster carers.
We discussed ways that we could have a much more open dialogue with foster carers and also how it would be nice if we could all get to know each other better as people. We thought something less static than a website would help to get us all comfortable talking about often sensitive and difficult subjects.
I suggested a Yammer community might help – I’d already had a taste of how Yammer communities work in a successful professional group for public sector people interested in social media. Yammer communities allow you to have a private group where you have to be invited to join. It seemed ideal and since it was free to use we put it to our group of foster carers.
Foster carers said they felt they had few ways of contacting the authority and when we showed them Yammer they loved it.
What they like
• Foster carers only met face-to-face at a quarterly meeting arranged by the authority. The Monmouthshire Foster Carers Yammer community means they can now talk to each other when they like – they don’t all have access to each other’s email addresses and some feel that email is just for when you have something particular to say to someone. Yammer allows them to chat openly with each other.
• Yammer gives them the event function (similar to Facebook events) – they can now organise social occasions like a picnic easily.
• They answer each other’s questions – we have a great deal of experience among the group and they now have a place to share good practice and get support and advice not just from ‘the authority’ but from peers who do the job too.
• They have direct access to our director of social services (who joined the group) and can be consulted with on major documents.
• They get to question our policies, and ask about certain rules and get officers explanations for why we do what we do. My experience is that people just want to know the reasons for why systems run as they do and regardless of if they think it’s the best way of running a department, they’re happier than they were when they were in the dark.
Why it works
Foster carers all know about their responsibilities regarding confidentiality and not posting inappropriate information – we didn’t need to run them through all that business because they are great at their jobs!
Our foster care team, especially Gill Cox and Steve Beard, are very open to new ways of working more effectively and they have really put the effort in to the Community, getting conversation buzzing and making the right information available.
• Information: the newsletter gets posted there so people can easily read it on their phones on computers in their own time.
• Questions: like ‘has mileage gone up to 45p?’ and ‘does anyone know where to get the school uniform jumpers etc. for King Henry VIII School Abergavenny?’ and ‘I look after a three year old and just recently he has been prone to waking in the nights and wandering around the house – Has anyone any experience of this and what is the best solution?’ They are answered by staff and fellow fosterers.
• Polls: for example on where the best place for a meeting and what suits people most.
• Conversations: about things foster carers care about e.g. “Okay, so how many kids need to pass through our lives before we become acclimatised and it gets easy to move them on?”
It’s been heartening to see how supportive foster carers are of each other and how much knowledge they have to share.