Abstract: Kinship Caregiver Age As a Protective Factor from Stress and Strain (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Kinship Caregiver Age As a Protective Factor from Stress and Strain

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Qi Wu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Arizona State University, AZ
A. Nancy Mendoza, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Amanda Klein, Ed.D., Senior Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Hanna Haran, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Ramona Denby, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background: This study compares kinship caregivers age 65 and over and those under 65 to test the assumption that older caregivers experience greater stress and strain, adversely affecting the care they provide to their relatives’ children.Some research (Lee, Bailey, & Kurtz, 2008; Lee, Clarkson-Hendrix, & Lee, 2016) has found that older caregivers experience more negative physical health and well-being outcomes, but other studies suggest that these outcomes may not be due to age, as initially thought. In fact, some researchers have surmised that older caregivers may, in fact, possess strengths and skills that their younger peers might not (Dolbin-MacNab & Keiley, 2009; Sands, Goldberg-Glen, & Shin, 2009). This study utilized the Kinship in Nevada (KIN) tool (Denby, 2011, 2012), a 150-item Likert scale designed to measure kinship caregivers’ perceptions and experiences, to determine if there was empirical evidence to support the idea that age can be a protective factor for kinship caregivers.

Methods: Data were collected using Dillman’s Total Design Survey Method (TDM) for mail surveys and the Tailored Design Method (Dillman, 1978; Dillman, et al., 2008). A sample of 548 informal and formal kinship caregivers from a large southwestern state completed a mailed survey. Of the respondents, 97 (17.7%) were 65 years of age or older, and 451 (82.3%) were under age 65. The sample was racially and ethnically diverse: 40.5% were European American, 30.7% were African American, 15.5% were Native American, 11.3% were Latino American, and 2.0% were Asian American. The majority of caregivers in the sample earned $20,000 or less each year (56.9%) and had a GED or less than a high school diploma (51.6%).Propensity score analysis was used to balance the two comparison groups of caregivers on multiple observed covariates; then regression models with propensity score adjustments were conducted to examine the relationship between caregivers’ age and their stress or strain.

Results: Findings revealed that kinship caregivers aged 65 and older had an average strain score that was 2.13 points lower than the score for those under 65. Additionally, several covariates (e.g., race and ethnicity, child age, educational attainment, number of children in one’s care, and family involvement) showed significant relationships with caregivers’ strain levels.

Conclusions and Implications: No significant differences were found between younger and older caregivers in childrearing abilities, which provides evidence against the belief that older caregivers are not as capable as younger caregivers when it comes to raising their relatives’ children. These findings are supported by the literature base on the coping skills, resilience, and family orientations of older caregivers, suggesting that more advanced age provides additional resources and benefits to kinship caregivers. Considering the resilient and protective nature of kinship caregivers’ age, these findings could have implications for placement decisions for children in the foster system and for support programs for older caregivers. Future studies could further stratify samples of caregivers into smaller age brackets than the cutoff of 65 years of age used in this study.