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January 08, 2019

New research: For families impacted by foster care, Friends of the Children’s model is a promising solution

Our model has been proven that it works once again!

The University of Washington conducted new research on our model and its effect on youth in foster care. The research has shown promising solutions to supporting families impacted by foster care. Entering foster care is very traumatic for children and families. That trauma is compounded when youth are often relocated several times and have little interaction with their biological families.

“The Friend relationship provides an avenue for promoting family stability, permanence and child well-being by providing holistic support to child welfare system-involved caregivers, families and children,” said lead author Amy M. Salazar, M.S.W., Ph.D., assistant professor at Washington State University Department of Human Development. The study was funded by Annie E. Casey Foundation and conducted at the University of Washington School of Social Work Social Development Research Group and Washington State University Vancouver. It was published in the Child & Family Social Work journal.

With more than 437,000 children in foster care nationwide, a number that has seen a 10 percent increase since 2012, this study indicated that organizations like Friends of the Children, are coming to the table with innovative solutions.

“The Friends of the Children model is clearly aligned with [Annie E.] 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.

Four global themes emerged from the research, providing more insights into why our model works:

- Advocating and connecting: Our professional mentors advocate for families by empowering them with tools to navigate complex systems, connect with needed services and supports, and build connections among providers and stakeholders in families’ lives. We also connect our families to various resources such as counseling, youth programs, transportation assistance and basic needs such as food and clothing.

- Knowledge and skill building: Our professional mentors empower our youth and their caregivers to strengthen social-emotional skills that promote positive behavior and family stability. Our professional mentors also coach our youth and their caregivers about their rights within systems of influence, such as schools and child welfare.

- Relational support: Our professional mentors are role models, providing consistency and continuity. When our youth transition to different homes and caregivers with frequency, our professional mentors are a consistent adult in their lives. Our professional mentors are also a valuable resource to help caregivers understand that child’s strengths, needs and interests.

- General support: Our professional mentors provide emotional and logistical support through crises and challenges, education-related support, opportunities that build social capital, and parenting assistance such as collaborating on goals and supporting behavioral challenges.

The study also included recommendations for strengthening things we are already doing, rather than suggesting new responsibilities. One example was providing parents and caregivers the opportunity to connect with other parents and caregivers whose children are in the program. The recommendations will be used to inform our program quality improvement, particularly around training and supervision, through a trauma-informed lens.

Researchers said a critical next step will be implementing the recommendations to strengthen practices and conducting evaluations of outcomes for youth selected from foster care systems. Currently, 40 percent of youth in our program have experienced formal foster care or kinship care at some point during their time in the program.

Our data shows that youth in the program who have experienced foster or kinship care achieve the program’s long-term outcomes at the same rate as youth who have not experienced care: 86 percent graduate from high school; 96 percent avoid the juvenile justice system; and 94 percent avoid early parenting.

Read the official press release here.