Exploring social networks in foster caring: The mockingbird family in Australia

Michelle Jones, Emi Patmisari, Helen McLaren, Simone Mather, Chris Skinner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In their care of children and young people, foster carers report experiencing social isolation and a lack of support. This study examines the social network experiences of Australian foster carers who are members of Mockingbird Family. While well established in the United States and United Kingdom, Mockingbird Family was introduced to Australia offering a new approach to address the unique challenges of foster caring for vulnerable children and young people. The model geographically networks 6–10 foster care households in a ‘constellation’ with a central ‘hub home provider’ tasked with providing information, support, and respite care. This study employed a cross-sectional explanatory sequential mixed methods approach to investigate social connections and supports in the first four Australian Mockingbird Family constellations. A social network tool was used to survey participants (n = 27) and two focus groups (n = 20) to gather their experiences. Analysis found the highest mean social network connections with people from within their own Mockingbird Family constellations. Three measures of centrality were used indegree, betweenness and closeness, to report the connections and role of members within each constellation. Comparing constellations at different stages of maturity, the hub home provider was consistently ranked with high betweenness centrality as the bridge. In the longer-running constellations, the hub home provider was ranked with high indegree centrality or the primary source of advice or expert support. This indicated micro-network evolution that may potentially result in reduced reliance on statutory and other formal system supports over time. Changes to micro-dynamics in social support within constellations were explained qualitatively through three themes: leadership and expertise, information diffusion and communication, and trust and familiarity. Mockingbird Family was found to provide social connections and support networks amongst foster carers, indicating the model’s capacity to strengthen supports to carers thereby strengthening the immediate environment of children and young people in care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1869-1891
Number of pages23
JournalJOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Volume41
Issue number7
Early online date31 Jan 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2024

Keywords

  • Australia
  • connectedness
  • foster care
  • mockingbird family
  • social network analysis
  • social support

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