More than 2.5 million children in the United States are being raised by grandparents or other relatives, either formally through the child welfare system or informally through private arrangements. To address the needs of these substitute caregivers, particularly those providing informal care, many states have implemented Kinship Navigator Programs (KNPs). KNPs are generally designed to keep children in safe and stable family caregiving settings, and avoid involvement with the child welfare system. Previous studies suggest KNPs effectively address safety and stability concerns for children in kinship care, but more research is needed to better understand the characteristics, needs, and strengths of these arrangements. This study was guided by two primary research questions: 1) What are the key challenges identified by kinship caregivers; and 2) What are caregivers’ perceptions of how well these challenges are addressed by their KNP?
Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted in person with kinship caregivers to examine their experiences, challenges, and strengths regarding caregiving and relationships to KNPs. Data were collected as part of a larger evaluation study of a statewide KNP, and analyzed using a directed content analysis approach with rigorous coding standards applied. Analysis was facilitated by NVivo12.
There were 101 kinship caregivers interviewed. A majority of participants were women (97%) and caring for an average of 2 children. The average age of caregivers was 54 years old (SD=11.55). Approximately 64% identified their race/ethnicity as Black or African-American, 16% as White, 9% as multi-racial/ethnic, 8% as Hispanic/Latina, and 3% other racial/ethnic groups. Two-thirds of participants had annual household incomes of < $30,000, and though about 36% had a HS diploma, 75% had less than a college education. The majority of the sample were receiving public assistance (97%). Three main themes emerged related to caregivers’ primary challenges and the extent to which the KNP addressed these challenges: undisclosed difficulties with biological parent relationships, limited social supports, and insufficient financial resources. Participants described persistently arduous relationships with the parents of the children in their care, but sought little to no formal support from KNPs to address these concerns. Though caregivers generally described feeling supported by KNP staff, there was a yearning for increased social supports and connection to other caregivers in similar circumstances. Finally, participants acknowledged the benefit of the financial supports provided by the KNP, but were clear that these resources were insufficient to meet caregiving needs.
Conclusions and Implications
Despite the presence of KNPs and generally positive feelings about them, kinship caregivers experience challenges that are often left under-addressed. Data suggested that caregivers find KNPs to be helpful, but insufficient in meeting caregiving needs. By privileging the voices of a large group of kinship caregivers, this study yields important recommendations for KNPs including increased interpersonal supports from trained staff to address family conflict, and increased formal and informal social supports for caregivers. Additionally, financial resources are an essential program component, but increased stipends could improve the financial circumstances of kinship caregivers, and ultimately the safety and security of children in their care.