Methods: This study surveyed parents and guardians (caregivers) who had adopted or assumed guardianship of children through the foster care system, and whose children, at the time of the survey, were between the ages of 11 and 16 (n=3943 surveys sent; 44% response rate, n=1743). The data included demographic information from the caregivers and youth, including age, race, gender, type of legal permanence (adoption or guardianship), caregiver marital status, and the biological relationship between the caregiver and the youth (non-relative, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other relative). Multivariate OLS was used to examine three outcomes: (1) child behavioral issues (Behavior Problem Index; BPI), (2) Belonging and Emotional Security Tool (BEST-AG) and (3) caregiver strain (Strain).
Results: Multivariate results found that children who achieved legal permanence with relatives caregivers (grandparent, aunt or uncle) reported lower BPI scores (fewer behavioral issues) than children who achieved legal permanence with non-relatives. In addition, the current age of the caregiver was positively associated with higher BPI scores (Adjusted R2 = 0.139). For the BEST-AG, children who achieved legal permanence with a grandparent reported a greater sense of belonging and security compared to non-relatives; placement with aunts and uncles was not statistically significant (Adjusted R2 = 0.121). Caregivers who were grandparents, aunts or uncles reported less strain than non-relative caregivers, and caregiver age was positively associated increased levels of caregiver strain (Adjusted R2 = 0.139). Significant differences between the two states will also be discussed.
Conclusions: This study provides greater insights into the differences between relative and non-relative caregivers who adopt or assume guardianship of children formerly in foster care. Importantly, these results found that children placed with biologically related adoptive parents or guardians have a stronger sense of belonging and emotional security, compared to children living with non-biologically related caregivers, and that these caregivers feel less strain than non-relative caregivers. These findings suggest the importance of maintaining kinship relationships. The findings that go beyond what has been previously reported for children in foster care, in that the benefits of living with relatives continue into permanent adoptive and guardianship familial relationships.