You may remember a little while back we raised some concerns about a foster carer agency that were using the social media site Twitter and tweeting what could only be considered inappropriate sentiments in order to attract foster carers. Those sentiments were based around money and they were using huge cash incentives to try to get foster carers on board.

More worryingly, the Twitter account was being handled by someone who refused to tell us if they worked for the agency and what their names were – a fatal mistake in the world of social media, where transparency is prized. And whilst their tweets were not aggressive, they were surly and opaque.

Shortly after we raised our concerns with them in a series of public tweets online, we noticed that they started to change the way they were sending out messages on Twitter – they had back tracked from their position and despite denying any wrong-doing, had simply done a u-turn on their stance and were starting to adopt a slightly different strategy (pardon the pun).

A few weeks later we noticed that their twitter account was frozen – not blocked as such, just undergoing what appeared to be a revamp. And sure enough, once they came back online, their tweets had completely changed in tone and content. We also began to notice that their tweets were almost identical to Simply Fostering’s, another care agency. So we had to ask – and we did.

This evening on Twitter we asked Simply Fostering the following question:

@SimplyFostering I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you affiliated to @FindFosterCarer? Your tweets have become almost identical 🙂

Then we received the following reply:

SimplyFostering@SimplyFostering

@SobukiRa Thanks for the mention!The new free foster carer forum is now live.Go to http://www.fostercareworld.com to discuss issues affecting you w

9:43 PM – 28 May 12 via web

To which we replied:

@SimplyFostering I didn’t ask for forum information, I asked you a question, – is there a reason why you haven’t answered it? 🙂

As we hadn’t heard back from them and could see they were avoiding the question, we decided to find out for ourselves. And this is what we found.

We discovered that the two agencies were in fact, affiliated; that Simply Fostering considered itself to be the UK’s ” most successful online independent foster carer recruitment company” and that Foster Care Agent were providing free advice and practical support for families who were thinking of transferring from their existing agency.

There were several things that concerned us – the first was that this agency is independent. Sometimes, in the family sector, that can be a blessing, but in this case it raises issues of quality control. The second was that this agency appears to be turning over a lot of business (although we haven’t checked their annual reports), and having seen how they do that, it also raised alarm bells about the culture inside the system – using inappropriate incentives seems to be the norm.  The third, was that they also appeared to be trying to ‘poach’ foster carers from other agencies by offering “free advice and practical support… to ensure that people interested in fostering have their questions answered“.

And then we discovered Annette. This is who you can contact if you have any queries about being a foster carer. Annette, though, hides behind a contact form: click her name and all you get is this page. Annette has no job description, no picture and nothing to her name. Annette could be a robot; she could be the agency secretary or she could be the CEO. Given that the agency don’t even want to reveal who’s doing their tweeting for them, who Annette is, is anyone’s guess.

But we don’t like the way this agency communicates or the messages they send out. Simply Fostering and Foster Care Agent for all their differences in name, appear to mirror each other when they tweet. It is a bizarre thing. The tweets too, are bizarre. Check out the following from each agency:

SimplyFostering@SimplyFostering

8,750 new carers are needed in UK.A young person comes into LA care and needs a foster family every 20 minutes!! RT if bothered

9:42 PM – 28 May 12 via web
Fostercareagent@FindFosterCarer 8,750 new carers are needed in United Kingdom.A young person comes into LA care and needs a foster family every 20 minutes!! RT if bothered

9:01 PM – 28 May 12 via web · Details
Fostercareagent@FindFosterCarer 8,750 new carers are needed in Great Britain.A young person comes into care and needs a foster family every 20 minutes!! RT if annoyed

9:56 PM – 28 May 12 via web
SimplyFostering@SimplyFostering

8,750 new carers are needed in GB.A child comes into care and needs a foster care every 20 minutes!! RT if annoyed

9:58 PM – 28 May 12 via web
Do you see what we see? Identical tweets, tweeted at almost the same time, and this sample is not the exception to the rule. We also see the rather obvious and tasteless attempt at gaining exposure by asking social media users to retweet, which just means pass on, their tweets if they are concerned about the state of children needing family support. They use an indirect and noble sentiment, to try to subliminally endorse their agency. Yuk.
It is fair to say that many affiliated organisations on Twitter tweet identical tweets (oh my, say that really fast ten times), and whilst it is just downright boring to read, there is no harm in it. What is interesting here though, is that Foster Care Agent has had a social media makeover and we’re not sure that there is any sincerity behind the change. And they may even thank us, as they did last time, for giving them some exposure…..
But we’ll let you decide. Have we been too harsh? Over to you….