Child welfare systems are becoming increasingly reliant on relative family (e.g., kinship) caregivers for the placement of maltreated children. As a result, state and federal legislatures have propagated a host of policies aimed at better supporting these caregivers. Despite the growing dependence on kinship providers, and the legislative initiatives aimed at better serving them, few studies, if any, have examined knowledge and public perception related to kinship care. This study seeks to address this limitation in the literature.
This exploratory, cross-sectional study examined the public perceptions of, and knowledge about, kinship care among a convenience sample of (N = 1,000) residents of one southeastern state. To collect primary data for this study, the researchers developed an instrument designed to solicit general perceptions about kinship youth, kinship caregivers, and support for kinship providers. For each of these domains, participants were asked their agreement with items.
As well, researchers collected data about perceived and actual knowledge about kinship. For perceived knowledge, participants were asked to what extent they agreed with particular statements. For actual knowledge, participants were provided with factual statements and ask to assess whether the statements were true, mostly true, did not know, mostly false, or false. Then, discrepancy scores were calculated by subtracting mean scores for perceived from actual knowledge. Discrepancy scores could range from -4 to 4, with lower scores indicating participants had more knowledge than they perceived and a score of zero (0) indicating “no gap” between an individual’s actual and perceived knowledge about kinship care.
All data collected for this study was analyzed via IBM SPSS version 24.0. Univariate/bivariate analyses were performed to examine descriptive characteristics of the sample and to examine correlations between demographic and professional characteristics. ANOVAs or independent sample t-tests were conducted to investigate differences between key categorical variables with appropriate sample sizes at each level on the dependent variables (i.e., perceptions and knowledge). Lastly, multivariate analyses were performed to explore the effects key predictor variables may have on the dependent variables.
Results indicate that participants in this study hold favorable perceptions about kinship youth and caregivers. Findings suggest that participants typically view kinship as a favorable alternative to foster care and kinship providers should receive the same benefits as foster parents. Concomitantly, findings indicate that discrepancy scores differ by race. White/Caucasian respondents underestimate the perception of their kinship care knowledge compared to Black/African American respondents, who showed little gap between perceived and actual knowledge. Differences in knowledge also exist by educational level, among other variables.
While participants tend to view kinship favorably, it appears that familiarity with kinship families play a role in one’s self-perception and knowledge of kinship issues. This study is the first of its kind and suggest a need for broad-based educational initiatives related to kinship that are sensitive to demographic differences and exposure to kinship families. This study provides empirical findings on which to base such efforts, and offers a number of pragmatic implications for adept practice and research related to kinship care.