Abstract: Strategies to Address Challenges Faced By Kinship Caregivers: Implications for a Statewide Kinship Navigator Program (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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229P Strategies to Address Challenges Faced By Kinship Caregivers: Implications for a Statewide Kinship Navigator Program

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Allen, MSW, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Alicia Guevara Warren, MPAff, Director of the Kinship Care Resource Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Fei Sun, PhD, Associate Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Michele Brock, LMSW, Senior Clinical Instructor; Director of Community Engagement, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose. Over time, more children in out-of-home placements are living with kinship caregivers, or relatives taking care of relative children. Research has shown that kinship care has many benefits for children compared to non-kin care, including higher placement stability and fewer mental health problems, but kinship caregivers still report many challenges and unmet service needs. Kinship navigator programs are one type of service to address kinship caregivers’ needs by connecting them with needed services, resources, and information. As part of the implementation of a statewide kinship navigator program, we conducted focus groups to gain perspective on the experiences of kinship caregivers in Michigan. There are a few studies that have examined the experiences of grandparents raising their grandchildren through focus groups, but we did not limit participation to biological grandparents. In this study, we set out to address the following questions: (1) What challenges do kinship caregivers face?; (2) What are pressing or unmet service needs that kinship caregivers have?; and (3) How do kinship caregivers locate needed services or resources?

Methods. Four semi-structured focus groups were conducted with kinship caregivers (n = 28) at three sites. Participants were grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts/uncles, and siblings of the children in their care. Most identified as White (57%) or African American (32%) and female (85%). Flyers and emails to community organizations that serve kinship caregivers were used to recruit participants. Each focus group was recorded and transcribed verbatim. Using QDAMiner software, thematic analysis was utilized to code the transcripts, using an inductive, multi-stage approach. Once codes were identified, themes were generated to address the research questions.

Results. Kinship caregivers face many challenges in their role, including barriers to accessing services and resources; interpersonal issues between themselves, their children, and the children’s biological parents; navigating their legal relationship or guardianship status with their children; and financial difficulties. Pressing and unmet service needs commonly reported were financial assistance programs, parenting classes, children’s mental health or psychiatric services, support groups for kinship caregivers and children, and legal assistance. To locate needed services, kinship caregivers primarily relied on word of mouth references from other kinship caregivers and service providers in the community. Many caregivers reported difficulties using the internet as a resource, either due to lack of access or difficulty navigating websites for relevant information.

Conclusions and Implications. Our findings highlight the myriad of difficulties that kinship caregivers face as they navigate their role. A variety of unmet service needs amplify these challenges and caregivers often rely on word of mouth alone when navigating the system and trying to access resources and services. These findings inform the implementation of a statewide kinship navigator program and the practice of social workers with kinship caregivers and their families.