foster carers
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To encourage and inspire new potential foster carers to step forward, Bristol City Council decided it needed to understand just what nudges people over the line, and what holds them back

The need to recruit more foster carers has been high up on Bristol City Council’s priority list for some time. And as people continue to self-isolate, shielding each other from exposure to COVID-19, the pool of people able to offer homes to foster children has been shrinking further.

The Council teamed up Mace & Menter on a qualitative research project, in order to understand how to turn people who are interested into actual foster carers.

The Council initially launched a social media campaign raising awareness of the increased need for foster carers during the current crisis. Within a fortnight, they’d had over 200 people get in touch, keen to follow up on the possibility of offering up their homes to foster children for the duration of the pandemic, or longer.

Exploring the user experience

“If you set out to explore the whole of an experience, to understand people’s emotions, goals, motivations, and concerns around it, you learn enough about that context to be able to apply your knowledge to your future problems, too,” said Mace & Menter consultant, Kat Thackray.

While the Council’s fostering service fielded calls from people responding to their appeal, Mace & Menter set about understanding what it is that stops people from picking up the phone when there isn’t a pandemic. They spoke to foster carers past and present, as well as those who’d just decided to become foster carers, and people who were thinking about becoming foster carers but hadn’t made any decisions yet, in order to determine the difference between these groups.

As part of the interviews, participants were asked to review some of the Council’s existing communications materials. The people who’d already decided to become foster carers liked the persuasive, emotional content: it reinforced how right they were to make that decision. The people who were still deciding … didn’t. They said things like, “It makes me sad, I don’t want to look at it.”

“A related lesson,” added Kat. “Beware of anecdotal feedback. You may hear good things about the materials you put out, because you’re only hearing from people who’ve decided to speak to you. There isn’t a natural way for everyone else to tell you: we don’t like this. We need other things from you, to help us make this decision.”

Aside from the collateral review, Mace & Menter also spoke to participants about their questions, their concerns, and their information sources – everything that fed into their decision-making process.

“We found out what’s really going on in the (on average) three years it takes people to come to a decision about fostering. We got a solid handle on the things that nudge people over the line, and the things that hold them back. We got some clues about how to make that decision into a much easier one,” continued Kat.

Collating the research

Via some pen-portraits, some mini-journey maps, and lots of storytelling, the Mace & Menter team shared its research findings with the communications team at the Council, which left them with a really clear understanding of how they could better inform their potential foster carers.

These findings will apply both during this pandemic and when the world returns to something nearer normal. Jack Smith, Creative Manager at Bristol Design, Bristol City Council, said: “This level of insight is truly invaluable in ensuring that our service and communications can attract and retain foster carers.”


Bristol City Council has given Mace & Menter permission to share its research findings with public-sector organisations, to showcase what they did to fit their local circumstances and encourage other local authorities to explore the same.  

The insight is a valuable resource for anybody who has to make decisions about encouraging and inspiring new foster carers.

 Mace & Menter will be running an online show & tell on Tuesday 30th June, from 3pm – 4pm.


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