Abstract: Exploring the Relationship between Kinship Placements and a Sense of Belonging for Children and Caregivers Moving Towards Adoption (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Exploring the Relationship between Kinship Placements and a Sense of Belonging for Children and Caregivers Moving Towards Adoption

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kerrie Ocasio, PhD, Assistant Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Julia McKernan, MSW, MSW Student, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Background: Research has established the importance of maintaining familial relationships through placement with kin for children in foster care, including increased sense of psychological permanence, decreased child behavioral issues, and numerous adult outcomes. For caregivers, kin placements are thought to capitalize on altruistic ties to maintain motivation in the face of challenges. However, the mechanisms through which kinship placements convey benefits and circumstances that affect these mechanisms are not well understood. In particular, placements with kin may provide increased opportunities to maintain connections with siblings and biological parents in comparison with non-kin placements, thereby confounding the effect of kin placements in studies that do not control for these familial relationships. This study explored the relationship between kin placements and a sense of belonging for children and caregivers, controlling for sibling and biological parent contact and select child well-being covariates.

Methods: This was a non-experimental study using administrative data from the Pre- and Post-Adoption Counseling Service (PACS) in New Jersey. PACS is a clinical program intended to promote attachment between children and pre-adoptive, as well as post-adoptive and guardianship caregivers. Select items from caseworker referral forms and pre-service assessment scales administered to children and one of their caregivers (n=230 pairs) were included in the study from pre-adoptive families only. Separate multivariate models were examined with youth and caregiver perspectives on belonging (measured through the Belonging and Emotional Security Tool) as the dependent variable. The independent variable of interest was pre-adoptive caregiver type (kin/non-kin), controlling for other sources of family contact (sibling connections: 1) placement with all siblings/no siblings, 2) visits with siblings not in placement with them or 3) no visits with siblings not placed with them; and parental visitation: yes, no), child behavioral problems (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) and parenting stress (Parenting Stress Scale).

Results: Regression analyses indicated that kinship placements were related to increased belonging for both youth (Adjusted R2 = .039) and adults (Adjusted R2 = .036). When control variables were added to the models, the relationship between kinship placement and youth belonging remained statistically significant, while child behavioral problems were negatively related to belonging (Adjusted R2 = .086). The relationship between adult belonging and kinship placements also remained statistically significant when control variables were added, while placement with siblings/no siblings was related to increased belonging in comparison to no visits with siblings not placed with them, and increased belonging was related to lower parenting stress and lower child behavioral problems (Adjusted R2 = .278).

Conclusions: These results confirm the importance of kinship in pre-adoptive placements for fostering a sense of belonging for both children and caregivers. Interestingly, child perceptions of belonging were not related to their placement or visitation with siblings or their visitation with parents. In contrast, caregiver perceptions of belonging were lower when children were having visits with siblings that were not in the home in comparison to those that were placed with all siblings and/or had no siblings. Implications for policy and practice to support kin and non-kin caregivers considering adoption will be discussed.