Children in kinship care may be placed in similar neighborhoods as their birth families, which are predominantly characterized as distressed neighborhoods with high poverty and crime rates, stressful housing conditions, and few social resources. Disordered neighborhoods are correlated to lower levels of social support, but it may vary by race/ethnicity. However, children’s previously established attachment, stronger connections, and social bonding may offset the negative effects of distressed neighborhoods on child behavioral health. This study aims to (1) examine the association between neighborhood disorder and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems; (2) investigate if caregivers’ social support mediates the association between neighborhood disorder and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems; and (3) test whether race/ethnicity (i.e., Black, Hispanic, and White) moderates the pathways from neighborhood disorder to social support, and from social support to children’s internalizing and externalizing problems in kinship care.
This study used Wave 3 of the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II) data. Children in kinship care who were identified as non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic were selected, which yielded a sample of 263 children (86 Black, 104 White, and 73 Hispanic). Dependent variables were children’s internalizing and externalizing problems, measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 2000). Neighborhood disorder, the key independent variable, was measured by the Community Environment Scale (Furstenberg, 1990). Social support, the mediator, was measured using the Duke-UNC Functional Social Support Questionnaire (Broadhead et al., 1998). Control variables included children’s and caregivers' characteristics (child age, sex, race/ethnicity, maltreatment type, and special health needs; caregiver age, sex, marital status, education, and labor force status), and placement characteristics (family poverty level, number of children). Univariate, bivariate, and moderated mediation regression analyses were conducted using Stata 15.0 (StataCorp, 2017).
The mediation analysis indicated that neighborhood disorder was associated with lower social support (B = -0.64, p =0.014), while high levels of social support, in turn, predicted lower children’s internalizing problems (B = -7.13, p < 0.001). No significant direct and indirect effects of neighborhood disorder on children’s internalizing problems were found. Results showed that neighborhood disorder had significant indirect effects on children’s externalizing problems (B = 3.98, p = 0.02), operating through social support (B = -0.64, p = 0.014). Social support (B = -6.23, p < 0.001) was negatively associated with children’s externalizing behavioral problems. Race/ethnicity did not significantly moderate the pathways from neighborhood disorder to social support and from social support to children’s behavioral problems.
Conclusions and Implications
This study sheds some light on child welfare practice. First, child welfare workers should assess neighborhood environments and family support prior to placing children in kinship care. Second, to enhance caregivers’ social support, some evidence-supported programs should be replicated and implemented across the country for kinship caregivers. Lastly, neighborhood-level interventions to improve neighborhood collective efficacy are needed. It is notable that these dynamics are consistent across race and ethnicity.