To fill gaps in child welfare programming, ‘bridge programs’ have emerged to provide additional support to foster families. Bridge programs generally use private, flexible funding to supplement foster family resources by providing items like furniture, clothing, childcare and emotional support. While bridge programs are becoming more popular, there is little information about their effectiveness. This study is a process evaluation of a bridge program, National Angels. This study examines how resources and support through the National Angels impacts relational permanence and caregiver stress.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with staff (n=8), volunteers (n=10), caregivers (n=10), and former foster youth (n=3) who participated in the program at one chapter of National Angels. Participants also completed a demographic form. Audio recordings were transcribed through a third-party secure transcription service and coded using a cloud-based qualitative analysis platform. Conventional content analysis was used with a collaborative coding process to increase rigor.
Relational permanence among youth, caregivers and volunteers were discussed by all interviewees (n=31). Three themes emerged related to how lasting connections were built. First, caregivers and youth (n=4) felt that volunteers’ intention to connect with them were genuine because they were unpaid, contrasting their experiences with paid social services staff. Programming also offered many opportunities for youth to participate in normalcy activities, from structured activities (e.g., summer camps) to informal activities (e.g., movies). Volunteers (n=9) discussed how normalcy activities helped build trust and created positive shared experiences that developed relational permanence. Staff and volunteers (n=5) emphasized that consistency of showing up and responsive communication were crucial in establishing trust with youth. Several caregivers, volunteers, and youth (n=8) described they connected with their matched family for over a year, beyond the minimum program commitment, and consider their relationship as akin to family. Caregivers (n=2), particularly those with multiple children, shared that their stress was reduced when they were able to reach out to their volunteer to help attend school events or babysit youth when needed.
Conclusion and Implications:
Findings suggest that the National Angels’ program is impacting relational permanence among volunteers and foster families. The program decreases stress among caregivers by providing necessary supports that they are not getting from child welfare organizations and other social service organizations. Findings also suggest that the program’s volunteer-based model helps to develop authentic, genuine relationships with foster/kinship families suggests that provide lasting community. Additional research is needed to document the outcomes of bridge programs in order to further examine the impact on relational permanency.