It is estimated that approximately 7.8 million children in the U.S. live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives (Generations United, n.d.), and informal kinship care arrangements make up the bulk of this group (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2018). While kinship care is becoming more prevalent in our society, our understanding of kinship caregivers’ experiences is very limited, particularly for those not involved with the public child welfare system. This in turn leads to challenges in providing appropriate support for these kinship caregivers. The current study attempts to fill in this gap by exploring informal kinship caregivers’ parenting experiences.
The data for the study were collected via anonymous survey with informal kinship caregivers. The research team contacted 35 agencies directly or indirectly working with informal kinship caregivers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, asking for their support in participant recruitment. The agencies were asked to share the study information with informal kinship caregivers, and interested caregivers were directed to contact the research team. The survey collected information on kinship caregivers' demographic characteristics and their kin care experiences.
The data collection is still ongoing, and the presented results are based on the responses of 35 kin caregivers who participated in the survey. The majority of the kinship caregivers (68.6%) were grandparents while 17.1% were aunts. The mean age of the participants was about 54 (SD=10.1), and they were caring for 2 related children on average (SD=1.1). Close to half of the participants (40.0%) were caring for related children due to biological parents’ substance use or mental health issues, and most of them (71.4%) expected to continue this responsibility until children become adults.
Children’s growth/thriving and safety were most frequently noted when participants were inquired about positive aspects of caregiving experiences. Financial burden, and children’s behavioral or mental health issues were the most common challenges experienced by kinship caregivers. As a result, kin caregivers identified financial support, and children’s mental health services as areas in need of the most support. Respite (11.4%) and activities for children (17.1%) were another areas where kinship caregivers would like to have support. The majority of the participants (68.6%) reported receiving no governmental support, and among those who received benefits, case assistance such as TANF was the most common governmental benefits.
Despite challenges, most kinship caregivers reported their caregiving experiences as positive (22.9%) or very positive (57.1%). In addition, it was observed that these informal kinship caregivers’ experiences were very diverse. For example, the levels of stress measured by the Parenting Stress Index (Abidin, 2012) ranged widely among the study participants.
Conclusions and Implications
The findings of the study illustrate both common and diverse needs and experiences of informal kinship caregivers. They also highlight the limited resources available for this population. Based on improved understanding of this population’s unique experiences and needs, appropriate services and programs should be designed and provided so that the safety and well-being of both caregivers and children in their care are ensured.