September 19, 2016 – Informal Kinship Caregivers

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds you well.  This morning, I want to take a moment to focus on caregivers.  In our daily work, we tend to focus primarily on the child or children at issue in any given case.  And this is as it should be.  But it’s just as important to remember that children do not exist in a void—to the contrary, they exist in the context of their family system and, increasingly, that system is comprised of relatives, and grandparents in particular, who are stepping into the primary caregiver role. 

A recent study published in the Children and Youth Services Review and titled “Parenting stress of grandparents and other kin as informal kinship caregivers:  a mixed methods study[1] takes a deeper look at parenting stressors experienced by “informal kinship caregivers who provided full-time care for children without biological parents present and outside of the foster care system.”  Id., pp. 29-30. 

The researchers chose this particular group because, unlike those arrangements that take place within the foster care system, informal kinship caregivers receive no financial support and very little in the way of other types of support.  Yet their numbers continue to grow:  “A national survey estimated that about 2.3 million children lived in homes without a parent present between 2012 and 2013, representing 3.1% of all children in the U.S.  The vast majority of these children were not in formal foster care, but in informal kinship care….” Id., p. 29. 

The challenges these caregivers face are manifold.  The researchers note that, “[i]n general, kinship caregivers are likely to be older and have disadvantages, such as being less educated than other caregivers as well as poorer physical health than non-kinship caregivers.”  Id., p. 30.  The economic hardship they face is substantial.  National estimates indicate that “38% of all kinship families, both formal and informal, live below the federal poverty line.  Kinship households, headed by grandmothers are particularly vulnerable; 48% of children living in grandmother-only households live in poverty.”  Id

And the list continues.  In addition to the health and economic issues, informal kinship caregivers face a significant challenges in “establishing and maintaining legitimacy as the kinship child’s guardian” particularly when dealing with school systems.  Id., p. 35.  And grandparents, in particular, have additional stressors: those who participated in the study indicated that “[t]hey personalized and carried guilt over their adult children’s failure as parents and have accepted the role of substitute parents to their grandchildren when needed.  At the same time, they faced challenges in ‘parenting the second time’ where generation gaps remained steep.”  Id., p. 36. 

What are the implications of this research for us as CACs and MDTs?  To begin with, this study is a powerful reminder that the Cultural Competence Standard requires “the ability to appreciate, understand, and interact with members of diverse populations within the local community.”  Standards for Accredited Members 2017, p. 17.  Sometimes, that diversity may be family composition, and we need to be as attuned to the needs of those families as to any others.  One suggestion from the researchers is to provide support groups for informal kinship caregivers, as the study determined this was a significant gap in available services.

Additionally, it is a reminder that we need to continue to think creatively about what constitutes a multidisciplinary team, and that may require us to reach out to service providers outside our usual circle.  For example, the study points out that “[e]lder informal caregivers may come in contact first with aging rather than child welfare service providers if the kinship placement did not involve child welfare services.”  Parenting stress of grandparents, p. 37. 

Finally, in terms of therapeutic services, this study is also a powerful reminder of why NCA so strongly promotes the use of TF-CBT as an effective therapeutic modality.  As noted in an article in Social Work Today, “[m]any clinicians who have used TF-CBT believe it is this caregiver support that is the key to the model’s effectiveness….  The research shows that when the full model is really adhered to—including the parental component—that’s when it’s most effective.”  Parental/Caregiver Support of Child Abuse Victims.

For all these reasons, I urge you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it with your team members, your colleagues and your community.  The more we work to support families of every composition, the better off our children will be.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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