Project: An Evaluation of the implementation of Fosternets in three English Local Authorities

Date: April 2009 – October 2010

Funder: The Digital Inclusion Team

Team: Dr Jane Dodsworth, Dr Neil Cooper, Dr Piers Fleming, Professor Gillian Schofield, Sue Bailey and Julie Young

Fosternets is an online service run by Redhood IT Services that enables local authorities to use social networking technology in order to improve the way it communicates with, trains & supports foster carers. It also aims to facilitate the development of a community of foster carers and a wider learning community linking carers and social workers. In March 2009 the Digital Inclusion Team (DIT), a delivery body funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government to implement the ‘Inclusion Through Innovation Report' (Social Exclusion Unit 2005), commissioned The Centre for Research on the Child and Family to undertake an independent evaluation of the implementation of Fosternets in one local authority. In June 2009 funding was agreed for an evaluation of two additional sites both of whom were approximately one year on in their implementation. This provided additional data and comparisons with the existing evaluation on how Fosternets was being or could be used in different types of local authorities, in different geographical areas and in the context of different patterns of agency commitment.

Aims: To consider how far the implementation of Fosternets in the three authorities had:

  • Altered, and potentially improved, the way in which social workers and foster carers communicate with each other and work together.
  • Facilitated access by foster carers to training resources and enabled them to book training courses more efficiently and more speedily;
  • Improved confidentiality by providing secure file transfer between foster carers and social workers;
  • Led to a quantifiable improvement in foster carers' understanding of and use of computer technology;
  • Given carers greater access to support materials, and an extensive online knowledge base which will help to improve outcomes and placement stability;
  • Created an ‘online community' of carers who use the social networking aspects of Fosternets to message

Methods: The multi-disciplinary research team employed a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods in the evaluation of the implementation of Fosternets, including questionnaires, interviews with key personnel responsible for its implementation, focus groups and analysis of data on the usage of the Fosternets websites in the three authorities.

Findings: The findings indicate that there may be potential for improved services and communication to and between foster carers provided by the technology of Fosternets, but that there would need to be a number of important factors in place:

  • Adequate administrative support to maintain and update the Fosternets site locally
  • Adequate support and training for all professionals involved, both foster carers and social workers
  • The importance of Fosternets in each local authority as ‘a community of practice' is recognised by all those involved in working towards improving the outcomes for the young people in foster care.

Implications for policy and practice: Although some of the aims of the implementation of Fosternets (particularly the use for communication between foster carers and social workers) were not achieved in the time period of this evaluation, there was considerable interest among some social workers and foster carers in the potential of the system. The emerging awareness of the potential for Fosternets to provide a useful resource to add to and improve services and communication to and between foster carers was evident from many of the comments made. There was also a general recognition that although technology cannot replace personal contact, the fostering service should where possible make use of opportunities to use technology to be more efficient and to improve the service provided to children.

Publications

Evaluation of Fosternets Report

Dodsworth, J.; Bailey, S. ; Schofield, G.; Cooper, N;  Fleming, P. ; Julie Young (2012)  Internet Technology: An Empowering or Alienating Tool for Communication between Foster-Carers and Social Workers? British Journal of Social Work volume etc. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/bcs007. Abstract