Study: Long-Term Mentoring Helps Foster Families

Posted November 28, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Mom and dad with two adolescent children

The non­prof­it Friends of the Chil­dren, which receives sup­port from the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion, aims to break the cycle of gen­er­a­tional pover­ty by pair­ing pro­fes­sion­al men­tors with kids who are involved in the child wel­fare sys­tem. Imple­ment­ed at 15 sites nation­wide, the Friends of the Chil­dren mod­el is root­ed in research that indi­cates sta­ble rela­tion­ships with car­ing adults can pave the way for chil­dren to devel­op social­ly, emo­tion­al­ly and, even, cognitively.

A pilot adap­ta­tion has tak­en the program’s sup­port a step fur­ther — extend­ing its reach to care­givers — and it’s an approach that seems to be work­ing, accord­ing to a year­long eval­u­a­tion by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington’s Social Devel­op­ment Research Group.

In the pilot, pro­fes­sion­al men­tors — called Friends — work one-on-one with youth while also help­ing their fam­i­lies nav­i­gate sys­tems, advo­cate for ser­vices and build skills spe­cif­ic to the needs of chil­dren in fos­ter care. Before being paired with fam­i­lies, Friends receive spe­cial­ized train­ing, which includes prac­tice work­ing with indi­vid­u­als who have expe­ri­enced trauma.

The Friends of the Chil­dren mod­el is clear­ly aligned with Casey’s pri­or­i­ty of mak­ing sure that all kids have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thrive, but the appeal of this study in par­tic­u­lar was its inter­est in improv­ing ser­vices to the whole fam­i­ly — which we know pro­duces bet­ter results than a sin­gle-gen­er­a­tion approach,” says Suzanne Barnard, direc­tor of Casey’s Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Group.

For the study, researchers select­ed adults from three Friends of the Chil­dren sites (Port­land, Ore­gon; Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton; and Tam­pa, Flori­da) that were pilot­ing the expand­ed sup­port mod­el. These 55 par­tic­i­pants had var­i­ous roles in the children’s lives — from Friends, bio­log­i­cal and fos­ter care­givers to social work­ers and teach­ers — and pro­vid­ed exten­sive feed­back through focus groups, inter­views and surveys.

This infor­ma­tion helped researchers under­stand how Friends func­tioned in the fam­i­lies’ lives and the three types of sup­port that the fam­i­lies found most valu­able. These were:

  1. Con­nect­ing the entire fam­i­ly to resources such as coun­sel­ing, trans­porta­tion assis­tance and mate­r­i­al resources such as food and clothing;
  2. Empow­er­ing care­giv­er par­tic­i­pa­tion in school-relat­ed activ­i­ties, such as sup­port­ing spe­cial needs and nav­i­gat­ing indi­vid­u­al­ized edu­ca­tion plan­ning; and
  3. Sup­port­ing youth to self-reg­u­late and build pos­i­tive rela­tion­ships while also help­ing care­givers to nav­i­gate behav­ioral challenges.

The feed­back gath­ered also iden­ti­fied pro­gram strengths and oppor­tu­ni­ties for improve­ment, such as improv­ing how con­sis­tent­ly Friends engaged with fam­i­lies and strength­en­ing men­tor train­ing and prepa­ra­tion in spe­cif­ic areas.

Because the pilot is still in its ear­ly stages, the kids are just a few years into the pro­gram, which runs 12.5 years — from kinder­garten through high school. Friends of the Chil­dren plans to use data from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Washington’s study to inform its mod­el and improve its ser­vices as the chil­dren and fam­i­lies grow.

The study’s influ­ence is already appar­ent. Its results have helped shape the organization’s next two-gen­er­a­tion ini­tia­tive — an effort focused on young par­ents who have expe­ri­enced fos­ter care and their chil­dren, accord­ing to Susan Walsh, Friends of the Children’s direc­tor of research.

Relat­ed Evi­dence-Based Prac­tice Resources

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