Kinship care families have more economic disadvantages compared to non-relative foster care families. Foster care payments and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are primary forms of financial assistance for foster caregivers (Hernández & Berrick, 2019). However, financial support disparities exist between kinship and non-kin families. Kinship families underuse financial assistance to which they are entitled due to high standards to be licensed foster parents, the stigma of the child welfare system, and kin caregivers’ lack of awareness of these available resources. Guided by the Family Stress Model, this study investigated longitudinal associations between economic hardship, economic pressure, and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems, and tested the potentially moderating role of TANF benefits and foster care payments in buffering the adverse effects of economic constraints on child behavioral health outcomes.
This study used data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being II data. Children (N = 360) who stayed in kinship care (n=267) and non-relative foster care (n=93) across three waves were selected. Time-varying variables included children’s internalizing and externalizing problems, economic hardship, economic pressure, and TANF benefits and foster care payments. Time-invariant control variables included child characteristics (age, sex, race/ethnicity, maltreatment type, health insurance), caregiver characteristics (age, sex, marital status, education, physical and mental health status, labor force status), and placement level factors (type of placement, number of children and number of caregivers in the home). Multi-level mixed-effects generalized linear models with Gaussian distribution and identity function using sampling weights were conducted in Stata.
In this study, about 50% of families lived below the federal poverty line, and two-thirds to three-quarters of families had experienced economic pressure. Many more kinship care families (25.83% vs. 1.36%) were TANF recipients than non-relative foster care families, while far more foster care families (97.59% vs. 23.66%) were foster care payment recipients. In multivariate analyses, economic pressure was positively associated with children’s internalizing (B = 5.27, p = 0.001) and externalizing problems (B = 4.86, p = 0.009), as was receiving TANF benefits (B = 5.64, p < 0.001 internalizing; B = 2.65, p < 0.022 externalizing). Receiving foster care payments (B = -5.24, p = 0.040) was associated with lower externalizing problems. Significant interaction terms showed that foster care payments had positive effects on children’s behavioral health outcomes among families without economic hardship and those families with economic pressure.
Conclusions and Implications
The results imply that assessing caregivers’ subjective experiences of family financial well-being are important to assessing family incomes. Finding points to the challenges and hardships of families that receive TANF benefits, with implications for evaluating financial and non-financial needs of kinship families who receive (or are eligible to receive) TANF. Furthermore, child welfare agencies and practitioners should continue providing financial assistance and non-financial related services to foster care families (kin and non-kin), particularly those families reporting subjective economic pressure.