The child welfare system in Taiwan has prioritized “kinship care” as the primary placement option for children entering the system, corresponding to the value of UNCRC. However, in 2021, only 5% of children placed in out-of-home care were in kinship care, compared with 22% in foster families and 51% in residential care. Previous research has identified practical challenges searching for and assessing proper caregivers, but research has not widely explored service needs among kinship caregivers. Caring for an extra child can be stressful and disrupting caregiver’s own family system, especially when more children are with special needs (e.g., attention deficit or behavioral problems) and familism beliefs can be a stressor. The current study aims to involve Taiwanese formal kinship caregivers’ voice and explore their needs, stress, and support, in order to develop better services for kinship families.
A mixed-methods design was employed. A small-scale survey was conducted with 99 caregivers, representing about 75% of formal kinship caregivers in Taiwan. The survey questionnaire was developed to examine caregivers’ caregiving needs, stress (i.e., Parenting Stress Index), and supports (i.e., Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support). Among them, 18 caregivers further participated in in-depth interviews which explored caregivers’ planning in responding to stress and child permanency. Both participants share similar demographics: mostly aged 50, female (over 70%), married (over 50%), and with low SES. It is worth noting that most caregivers are paternal relatives, and one-fourth of the survey participants and half interview participants are significant others (e.g., teachers, foster parents, NGO volunteers). Data analyses involved descriptive statistics, thematic analysis, and repeated comparison of quantitative and qualitative data.
Major themes connect caregivers’ motivation for caregiving, caregiver role retention (including needs and stress adaptation), and use of formal and informal support system. (1) Motivation: the child needs me. Because having known the child and family situation, kinship caregivers commit to the responsibility and belief that children can be better under their care. (2) Caregiver role retention: caring for the child does not create needs or stress, but uncertain future planning does. With the caregiving commitment, most kinship caregivers never feel stressful, and the survey findings demonstrate low-to-medium scores on the parenting stress scale. But qualitative findings indicate that caregivers are concerned about changes in case planning and child’s permanency goal. (3) Social support: financial assistance and informal emotional support are critical. Kinship caregivers have strong family support and demonstrate medium-to-high scores on perceived social support. Despite the support from informal network, financial assistance from formal system is needed.
Conclusions and Implications:
Implications for kinship care practice and policy in Taiwan are drawn from the findings. First, although public service needs are not identified, a complete formal support system is necessary to help caregivers with responding to children’s developmental needs. Second, kinship care case planning should be focused on strengthening and expanding caregivers’ formal and informal support system and involving caregivers in child permanency planning. Third, identifying significant others as fictive kinship caregivers can a strategy in placement decision-making process.