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Independent Evaluation of FosterTalk Membership Services

Evaluating the influence that fostering support programme, FosterTalk, has on foster carer retention and developing recommendations for the future. 

Fostertalk large image

Researchers

Research background

FosterTalk is a not for profit organisation providing high quality independent support to foster carers and their families throughout the UK since 2004. FosterTalk was established in response to a perceived need for foster carers to have access to a greater degree of independent support and currently offers a comprehensive benefits package which includes access to qualified advisors for fostering advice and information, tax and benefits advice, legal advice, medical, counselling and education advice and support, together with legal insurance for foster carers and their families.

FosterTalk also offers the Foster Carers Independent Support service (FISS) which provides face to face support to foster carers during the investigation of an allegation or serious complaint. We are currently supporting around 18,000 foster carers and their households through memberships. ForsterTalk work closely with the Children in Care Team at the Department for Education, with whom they share issues raised by foster carers and attempt to seek solutions.

Research aims 

  • To evaluate the role a FosterTalk membership has in supporting the retention of foster carers that have accessed the support service;  
  • To report the cost fostering service encounter in assessing prospective foster carers
  • To identify the role that FosterTalk membership plays in the fostering service and for the fostering community;
  • To evidence how accessing independent information provided by FosterTalk has an effect on the outcomes for service users;
  • To establish what difference is made to foster carers in their caring role as a result of FosterTalk F.I.S.S. intervention;
  • To demonstrate how FosterTalk insurances and legal support assists in retention of existing foster carers experiencing allegations or standards of care issues;
  • To evidence the difference accessing specialist independent tax and benefits advice has in the retention and approval of foster carers

Outcomes:

  • Clear tangible evidence that highlights the ‘difference’ FosterTalk membership has on its existing and prospective foster carers using this service;
  • Clear tangible evidence that recommends the future governance and structure of the FosterTalk service;
  • Highlight any potential consequences if the FosterTalk membership service was removed effecting the retention and assessment of foster carers.

Research methods

Using a case study mixed-methods approach the evaluation will draw on findings of an online survey and in-depth interviews (Yin 2014; Ballech, 1999).  The project will have three strands:

  • Strand 1: Survey. FosterTalk holds the details of a large number of existing members. It would be beneficial to promote a survey to all service users in order to reduce any bias in the survey responses and increase the likelihood of a representative sample of survey participants. However, a response rate of 50 members would be sufficient to provide a substantial evaluation. The survey will use predominantly closed questions so that descriptive statistics could convey an overall view of the benefits of membership and the role of FosterTalk in the retention of foster carers.
  • Strand 2: Interviews - up to six foster carers/potential foster carers will be selected for in-depth interview and discussion utilising telephone, or Skype according to time and cost factors as well as availability and preference of participants.  Selecting participants from a socially and culturally diverse cross section will be important.  Two key DfE members would also be invited to participate in an interview as stakeholders.
  • Strand 3: Documentary analysis of FosterTalk reports.

 Analysis

Quantitative data from closed/rating survey questions will be displayed as frequencies; in qualitative data, a priori themes will address research questions and emergent themes then identified.

Sampling

Case study participants would be selected to provide a maximal variation of foster carers utilising the services of FosterTalk including diversity of social and cultural variables.  All research participants will be treated equally regardless of gender, colour, ethnic or national origin, (dis)ability, socio-economic background, religious or political beliefs, trades union membership, family circumstances, sexual orientation or other irrelevant distinction. The data will be analysed systematically to allow both common and discrepant themes to emerge, both of which will be reported, in order to reduce any bias.

Key findings 

An online survey was responded to by over 400 foster carers. Eight foster carers participated in a telephone interview. The online survey and interviews show that foster carers are motivated to provide safe nurturing environments for children and young people and have described their roles as personally satisfying but challenging as noted in the literature. 

Satisfaction is derived from children’s achievements and rewarding behaviour.  Challenges arise from challenging behaviour, relationships with birth parents, other professionals (agencies, social workers and police officers) and allegation situations. Lack of support from other professionals in allegation situations is one of the most likely reasons for foster carers to consider leaving fostering, especially where proceedings to resolve them are lengthy. 

The current pandemic situation has placed additional stress on foster carers especially if they are caring for children and young people with complex needs with reduced education, social care and health services and additional pressures such as home-schooling. 

FosterTalk membership services were highly rated by survey respondents and interview participants.  Foster carers value the accountancy and tax advice service, the magazine and newsletters and support with allegations although not all foster carers were aware of the full range of membership benefits on offer.

Foster carers agree that information and advice from FosterTalk is useful; that staff are knowledgeable and helpful; that the information and advice they receive enables them to decide what to do next; that resolutions to problems are progressed after contact with FosterTalk and that without FosterTalk there would be insufficient appropriate independent support for foster carers. 

FosterTalk enhances the support provided by fostering service providers and these services cannot be accessed elsewhere. In terms of foster carer wellbeing, foster carers agree that membership makes them feel valued; empowers them; is an important wellbeing resource for foster carers; helps to reduce the challenges of fostering; is crucial to the recruitment and retention of foster carers. 

Download the FosterTalk executive summary