Abstract: The Kinship Effect during Teen Years: Understanding Outcomes for Relative Vs. Non-Relative Adoptive Parents or Guardians (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Kinship Effect during Teen Years: Understanding Outcomes for Relative Vs. Non-Relative Adoptive Parents or Guardians

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Nancy Rolock, PhD, Henry L. Zucker Associate Professor of Social Work Practice, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Kerrie Ocasio, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Kevin White, PhD, Assistant Professor, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
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
Rowena Fong, EdD, Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Background: Research on the well-being of children in foster care has established that children living with relatives are more likely to experience greater placement stability, and more favorable behavioral and mental health functioning, compared to children placed with nonrelated foster parents. Yet, limited research has examined the well-being of children who have exited foster care through adoption or guardianship, and the risk and protective factors associated with their well-being. This study examined survey responses from adoptive parents and guardians of children in two US states (Illinois and New Jersey) as part of the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation. This study compared outcomes for children who achieved legal permanence with a relative to children who achieved legal permanency with non-relatives.

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.