Methods: This pilot study employed a fully mixed sequential equal status design. Specifically, we used quantitative and qualitative methods to examine (a) the prevalence of stress (b) caregivers’ health; and (c) how caregivers understand and describe their self-care practices. We recruited African American informal kinship caregivers from child welfare agencies, one Head Start program, and the community (N=12; children ages 5 to 12). Data was collected from the caregivers using several measures including the Parenting Stress Index, Family Resource Scale, and a demographic form to obtain their self-ratings of health. Univariate analysis was conducted to determine the distribution of the dependent, independent, and control variables, as well as demographic variables. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using the phenomenological methods suggested by Moustakas and Creswell.
Results: The quantitative analysis revealed that 33% of caregivers reported high or clinically significant levels of stress. Additionally, most kinship caregivers faced resource challenges, with only 1 participant reporting their family resources were almost always adequate, but 50% of the caregivers reported their family resources were seldom or sometimes adequate and 25% of caregivers reported they were somewhat unhealthy. From the qualitative analysis, three themes emerged that illuminated African American informal kinship caregivers’ lived experiences with stress and their self-care practices: (a) maladaptive coping; (b) questions surrounding care for the children if something happened to the caregiver [who will take care of the children if something happens to me]; and (c) positive self-care practice
Implications: The finding of high stress levels among caregivers is consistent with prior research; however, the utilization of qualitative methods allows us to not only explore specific factors that contribute to their stress, but importantly to gain knowledge from caregivers about the self-care practices that may possibly reduce their stress and improve their health. In this study to continue positive self-care practices, the caregivers had to give priority to their own needs. Specifically, several kinship caregivers noted making positive self-care practices (e.g., spending time alone; spiritual practices) a consistent part of their lives helped to renew their energy to provide care for their children. Future research should consider using biomarkers of stress and interventions that include self-care practices to determine the most effective self-care practices to improve caregivers’ overall health.