Abstract: Strengths Associated with Relative Adoption or Guardianship after Foster Care: Results from Universal Surveys (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Strengths Associated with Relative Adoption or Guardianship after Foster Care: Results from Universal Surveys

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kevin White, PhD, Assistant Professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Nancy Rolock, PhD, Henry L. Zucker Associate Professor of Social Work Practice, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Laura Marra, MSSW, Research Director, Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing, Austin, TX
Monica Faulkner, PhD, Research Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Austin, TX
Kerrie Ocasio, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Rowena Fong, EdD, Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background: The number and proportion of foster children who find permanent homes through adoption or guardianship has been increasing over the past few decades. In 2018 alone, over 87,000 children exited foster care to adoption or guardianship. Over a third of these permanent homes may involve placement with a relative caregiver. Previous studies indicate that relative placement may be a protective factor for families, buffering post-permanency risks like child behavior problems, placement instability, or poor family cohesion. However, more research is needed to understand the extent to which having a relative caregiver is a protective factor for families, as well as whether the type of caregiver relationship matters (e.g., a grandparent versus a more distant relative). This study examined data from surveys of all adoptive and guardianship families receiving a public adoptive or guardianship subsidy in one state and one county in the U.S. The purpose was to examine how relative versus non-relative adoption or guardianship related to the demographic characteristics and wellbeing outcomes of families.

Methods: Data from two sites were collected as part of the federally-funded National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation (N = 937). First, bivariate descriptive analyses compared the demographic and wellbeing characteristics of adoptive and guardianship families with relative versus non-relative caregivers. Second, multivariate ordinary least squares and logistic regression analyses estimated the relationship between caregiver type (i.e., grandparent, aunt/uncle, other relative, and non-relative) and three wellbeing outcomes measured with standardized scales and survey items: child behavior difficulties, family belonging and emotional security, and placement stability.

Results: Bivariate comparisons showed that, in relative families, children were slightly older, caregivers were less likely partnered or married, guardianship was more likely the permanency type, children were less likely to have lived outside of the home, and caregivers reported less child behavior problems, as compared to non-relative families. Multivariate analyses indicated that adoption as the placement type, racial match between the caregiver and child, and a caregiver being a grandparent were associated with less child behavior difficulties. Some multivariate results showed that belonging and emotional security for the child was associated with having a grandparent caregiver, as well as different demographic characteristics of the child and caregiver, such as a younger caregiver age. Only a younger child age was associated with placement stability in multivariate analyses.

Conclusions: This study supports that adoptive and guardianship families with relative caregivers are substantively different than those with non-relative caregivers, in ways that possibly impact the experiences of families. Multivariate results showed that having a relative caregiver was also a protective factor associated with less child behavior problems, higher family belonging and emotional security, and more placement stability, after controlling for demographic characteristics. These findings suggest that practitioners and researchers should explore and enhance the strengths of families with relative caregivers, particularly grandparents. Future studies should disaggregate findings for relative and non-relative families to more precisely understand the opportunities and risks faced by families after adoption or guardianship from foster care.