New study on Friends of the Children program

Salazar, A.,Haggerty, P., Walsh, S., Noell, B & Kelley-Siel, E. (2019). Adapting the Friends of the Children programme for child welfare system‐involved families, Child & Family Social Work. doi:10.1111/cfs.12622

Summarized by Rachel Thompson

Notes of Interest: This study highlighted the importance of paid mentors in providing crucial long-term relationships, for both foster care children and their caregivers. The mentoring relationship provided a path for promoting family stability, permanence, and child well=being by providing more comprehensive support to the ones involved. Many caregivers spoke about the desire for mentors to spend more time with their youth, the caregivers and teachers. Participants identified the consistency and continuity of the mentoring (Friend) relationship as a critical aspect of the FOTC model.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Research has shown the importance of long‐term, caring adults for children in foster care. This paper reviews the Friends of the Children (FOTC) long‐term mentoring programme and how it was adapted to serve children and families with child welfare system involvement. This study’s two research questions are (1) How do Friends (FOTC’s paid professional mentors) currently work with, and in turn, have an impact on, child welfare‐involved families? and (2) How can Friends better support child welfare system‐involved caregivers and families to promote family stability, permanence, and child well‐being? Data were collected from 21 caregivers (foster and biological), 24 FOTC Friends, five child welfare workers, and five teachers. Qualitative analyses of focus group, interview, and open‐ended survey data revealed a wide variety of ways Friends currently support children and families. In addition, several recommendations were made for strengthening programming. These findings provide valuable insights into providing long‐term mentoring to child welfare system‐involved children and families.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

Many similar themes emerged in response to both research questions—for example, findings regarding ways Friends both excel at and could improve upon providing consistency and continuity to families. These seemingly contradictory findings likely arose due to feedback from caregivers who had varying experiences with their children’s Friends. A valuable next step for FOTC could thus be to explore how to bring more consistency to the work that Friends are doing with these high‐needs families, potentially through more structured expectations about their interactions.

Although this study focuses on FOTC and how it can be improved to better serve child welfare system‐involved children and families, the findings contain many valuable insights that could be helpful for other mentoring programmes or therapeutic settings interested in serving this population. The recommendations collected in this study and reported in Tables 4 and 5 offer several clear possibilities for next steps for both FOTC and for other foster youth‐serving programmes. These recommendations could be particularly helpful for programmes aiming to provide more holistic family support within the mentoring context. Of course, although feedback from caregivers and Friends underscores the strong potential of long‐term mentoring for highly vulnerable youth in foster care, a critical next step remains subjecting this model to rigorous evaluation.

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