An ecological understanding of kinship foster care in the United States
ABSTRACT We review empirical studies on kinship foster care in the United States. We conceptualize kinship foster care within the context of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1994) most recent ecological systems theory. Because there are multiple levels of influences on the developmental outcomes of children placed in kinship foster home, understanding the interrelations between the individual (child) and his or her surrounding environments (e.g., biological families, social-support network) is important. We argue that Bronfenbrenner’s most recent ecological systems theory is an appropriate theoretical framework for policy and practice implications in addressing complex issues surrounding kinship foster care system in the United States. This review integrates the empirical findings collectively on the factors associated with kinship foster care within and between five systems levels of the ecological systems theory: micro- (caregiver-child relationship, attachment, and kinship family environment), meso- (biological families), exo- (social-support network outside the family), macro- (race/ethnicity and policies), and chrono- (welfare reform) systems levels. Theories that are relevant to the ecological factors (e.g., attachment theory) are also discussed.
Finally, we draw policy and practice implications from the ecological systems analysis.
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ABSTRACT: Because of changes in legislation and policies regarding child welfare, increasing numbers of older children are being placed for adoption. Many of these children are defined as having “special needs” and include children who are at risk for physical, emotional, or behavioral problems. We use Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory as a framework to review the literature regarding child and family adjustment to adoption, with particular emphasis on special needs adoptions. We include recommendations for improvements in pre- and post-adoption intervention services based on an ecological model.Family Relations 09/2005; 54(4):512 - 522. · 0.68 Impact Factor
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This article reports the results of a research study on the role conceptions of relative foster parents. The sample of 82 Relative and 98 Non-Relative foster families was drawn from the foster parent population of The Casey Family Program. Demographic differences between the foster families are presented. Relative foster parents were significantly more likely to state that they were responsible for ensuring the foster child's continued contact with his or her birth parents than were non-relative foster parents. Recommendations for practice include the need to clarify the foster parent role for all foster families.Children and Youth Services Review. 01/1994;
- [show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Research about African-American children who overcome adversity to adapt successfully within kinship care is virtually nonexistent. To address this knowledge gap, we studied the caregivers of 30 African-American children residing in kinship care homes to determine why some children succeed in their placements while others do not. In this qualitative investigation, we interviewed the kinship caregivers of resilient and nonresilient children. Resilient children generally resided in families characterized by more structure, clear boundaries, and well-defined roles. Kinship caregivers indicated that the support they received from extended family was helpful and promoted positive child outcomes.Child and Youth Care Forum 09/2003; 32(5):255-269. · 1.25 Impact Factor
Journal of Child and Family Studies
J Child Fam Stud (2011) 20:863-872
An Ecological Understanding of Kinship
Foster Care in the United States
Jun Sung Hong, Carl L. Algood, Yu-Ling
Chiu & Stephanie Ai-Ping Lee
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An Ecological Understanding of Kinship Foster Care
in the United States
Jun Sung Hong•Carl L. Algood•Yu-Ling Chiu•
Stephanie Ai-Ping Lee
Published online: 2 February 2011
? Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
care in the United States. We conceptualize kinship foster
care within the context of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1994)
most recent ecological systems theory. Because there are
multiple levels of influences on the developmental out-
comes of children placed in kinship foster home, under-
standing the interrelations between the individual (child)
and his or her surrounding environments (e.g., biological
families, social-support network) is important. We argue
that Bronfenbrenner’s most recent ecological systems the-
ory is an appropriate theoretical framework for policy and
practice implications in addressing complex issues sur-
rounding kinship foster care system in the United States.
This review integrates the empirical findings collectively
on the factors associated with kinship foster care within
and between five systems levels of the ecological systems
theory: micro- (caregiver-child relationship, attachment,
and kinship family environment), meso- (biological fami-
lies), exo- (social-support network outside the family),
macro- (race/ethnicity and policies), and chrono- (welfare
reform) systems levels. Theories that are relevant to the
ecological factors (e.g., attachment theory) are also dis-
cussed. Finally, we draw policy and practice implications
from the ecological systems analysis.
We review empirical studies on kinship foster
Kinship foster care ? Parenting ? Race/ethnicity
Children ? Ecological systems theory ?
In recent years, increasing numbers of children in state
custody in the United States have been residing with their
relatives (Strozier et al. 2004). Kinship foster care has also
become the fastest growing form of child placement in
several countries around the world, such as England,
Scotland, Ireland, Norway, and Ghana (see Burgess et al.
2010; Goertzen et al. (n.d.)). However, much of the
available empirical studies are derived from the United
States, where kinship care placement has increasingly
become a preferred form of child care arrangement
(Cuddeback 2004; Ehrle and Geen 2002).
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
estimated that of the 25 states, the number of children
placed with their relatives jumped from 18% in 1986 to
31% in 1990. Data from the National Survey of America’s
Families (NSAF) conducted by the Urban Institute suggest
that in 1997, 194,000 children out of the 1.7 million lived
with relatives. Of these, 284,000 children were living in
voluntary kinship care and 1.3 million children lived with
kin privately without involvement of the child welfare
system (Ehrle et al. 2001; Schwartz 2002). In 2007,
123,390 out of 492,618 children in out-of-home care were
living with relatives, according to the Adoption and Foster
Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS) of the
National Data Archive for Child Abuse and Neglect
(NDACAN) and the Child Welfare League of America
Given the growing number of children being raised by
relatives, the provision of services after children are placed
J. S. Hong (&) ? Y.-L. Chiu ? S. A.-P. Lee
School of Social Work, Children and Family Research Center,
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Urbana,
IL 61801, USA
S. A.-P. Lee
C. L. Algood
Howard University, Northwest, Washington, DC, USA
J Child Fam Stud (2011) 20:863–872
Author's personal copy
in kinship foster care appears to be important. However,
relatively few services have been developed for children in
kinship care and their caregivers in comparison to tradi-
tional, non-kin foster care children and their caregivers
(Cuddeback 2004). In this review article, we examine the
findings from empirical studies on kinship foster care
within the context of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1977, 1994)
ecological systems theory. As suggested by Bronfenbrenner
(1974), an ecological orientation points to the importance
of considering the relations between the various level
systems as critical in understanding the development of the
individual (i.e., kinship foster child). Understanding the
complex relationships between the individual (child) and
his or her social ecology is also important to the develop-
ment of appropriate intervention and policy measures for
kinship foster care children and caregivers. The focus of
this article is to provide an empirical knowledge base by
which services and policies for kinship foster care children
and caregivers may be built.
Ecological Systems Theory
Because there are multiple levels of influences on the
developmental outcomes of children in kinship care, it is
important to understand the interrelations between the
individual and his or her environment. The ecological
systems theory has been posited as an appropriate frame-
work for the design of intervention approaches that address
complex issues (Anderson and Mohr 2003; Bronfenbrenner
1977, 1994; see also Schweiger and O’Brien 2005).
According to this theory, the interrelations among the five
systems levels affect children’s developmental outcomes:
micro- (immediate settings or environment), meso- (link
between two or more microsystems), exo- (settings not
directly affecting the individual but that influence the
microsystem), macro- (broader society and culture that
encompasses the other systems), and chrono- (consistency
or change over the life course).
The most immediate level influences on child development
are within the microsystem level, which consist of the
immediate setting or environment in which the individual
is situated, such as family or school. Bronfenbrenner
(1977), 1994 depicts the microsystem as a pattern of
activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations experi-
enced by the individual or group of individuals in a direct
setting (e.g., family). Microsystem level contexts of kin-
ship foster care include caregiver-child relationships,
attachment between the caregiver and the child, and the
The most direct interaction that children in kinship care
experience is within the family. According to the ecolog-
ical systems theory, influences between caregivers and
children are transactional; caregivers and children both
affect and are affected by one another (Schweiger and
O’Brien 2005). A number of researchers report that chil-
dren placed in kinship care are mutually beneficial for both
children (Dubowitz and Sawyer 1994; Freundlich et al.
2003; Jantz et al. 2002; Johnson-Garner and Meyers 2003;
Le Prohn 1994; Messing 2006) and the relative caregiver
(Coakley et al. 2007). Studies report that residing with a
relative made living easier for children (Messing 2006)
since relative caregivers provide continuity and connect-
edness for children removed from their parents (Geen
2004), which in turn result in positive child outcomes.
Children who have been separated by their biological
parents frequently deal with emotional trauma regardless or
whether they were abused or not (Jantz et al. 2002), and
kinship foster caregivers can alleviates the trauma by
providing a sense of family support (Dubowitz and Sawyer
1994; Freundlich et al. 2003). In their study of resiliency
among African American children in kinship foster care,
Johnson-Garner and Meyers (2003) report that resiliency
was reinforced through support from extended family
members. For relative caregivers, kinship care is also
beneficial. In their research on kinship foster caregivers’
perceptions of foster care, Coakley et al. Cox (2007) found
that relative caregivers felt that providing a home to chil-
dren was rewarding in and of itself, which enhances heal-
thy socio-emotional developing and a sense of stability
among children. The children in the study also expressed
that access to family members was a key to an easy tran-
sition when they are removed from their immediate family.
On the contrary, other researchers (Chipman et al. 2002;
Harden et al. 2004) also report that parenting behaviors and
the quality of caregiver-child relationships are more likely
to be negative among kinship foster homes than traditional
foster homes. One study (Chipman et al. 2002) found that
kinship foster caregivers admitted to employ corporal
punishment, and made a distinction between child mal-
treatment and physical punishment. Another study (Harden
et al. 2004), which investigated parental attitudes and
resources of both kinship foster caregivers (i.e., grand-
mothers) and traditional foster caregivers, found that
kinship caregivers reported greater caregiver-child conflict
and displayed less warmth than traditional foster caregiv-
ers. It is reasonable to hypothesize that for older caregivers,
the stress of childrearing with fewer resources may test
their patience and tolerance (Iglehart 2004), and that
parenting behavior and practices are influenced by broader
environmental factors, such as poverty.
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Attachment theorists posit an importance on children’s
developing emotional bonds with their caretakers, and
caregiver-child attachment is a critical issue in adoptive
families. Attachment disruption is also a major concern
when children have been removed from their biological
parents’ home (Rushton et al. 2003). Child welfare pro-
fessionals and clinicians have reported that children who
have been removed from their biological family experience
attachment disorder (Howe and Fearnley 2003), although
there have been little empirical studies on the attachment
Caregiver-child attachment is disrupted when children
experience multiple placements and placement instability
after the initial family disruption (Dozier et al. 2001;
Webster et al. 2000). Webster et al. (2000) examined the
number of placement changes over eight-year period by
5,557 children in California who first entered the state-
supervised, county-administered out-of-home care system
between births and age six. The researchers found that nearly
30% of children in kinship foster care and a slight majority
(52%) of children in non-kin foster care experienced place-
ment instability. Kinship care children experienced less
placement instability and are less likely to experience
attachment problems than children in non-kin foster care.
One of the few empirical research that examine the
relationship between foster caregivers’ motivations and
infant attachment, Cole (2005) reports that desire to
increase family size and social concerns for the community
were significant predictors
However, the study also found that these were not strong
motivators for kinship foster caregivers. Kinship foster
caregivers were significantly less likely than non-relative
foster caregivers to report desire to increase family size and
express concerns for the community. Another study (Cole
2006) investigated the attachment relationships of 46
infants placed in both kinship and non-kin foster care.
Findings from the study indicate that a majority of both kin
and non-kinship caregiver-infant dyads equally exhibited
secure attachment behaviors. For infants, it is unclear if
kinship foster care placements are more beneficial than
non-kinship placements for infants. The researcher also
notes that unlike older children and adolescents in out-of-
home placements, infants do not have a history or sense of
place from their biological families. Nevertheless, addi-
tional research is needed on attachment between kinship
foster caregivers and older children.
Kinship Family Environment
When children are removed from their biological family,
finding another caregiver who can provide consistent care
is necessary for alleviating the trauma of separation (Henry
1999). A lower-quality and high stress kinship family
environment may directly affect children’s physical and
emotional well-being, as well as their relationship with
their caregivers due to fewer economic opportunities. Ehrle
and Geen (2002) report from a national survey comparing
kinship and non-kinship foster care that kinship care chil-
dren experience greater hardships than non-kinship foster
care children. Kinship care children are significantly more
likely to live in families below 100% of the federal poverty
line; nearly two-fifths of kinship care children (39%) and
nearly one-third of voluntary kinship care (31%) lived in
poverty. In comparison, only 13% of non-kinship care
children lived in poverty. The researchers also report that
approximately 51% of kinship care children experienced
food insecurity, compared to 24% of non-kinship care
children. Another study (Harden et al. 2004) compared a
group of kinship (n = 50) and non-kinship (n = 51) foster
caregivers in parenting attitudes, social resources, eco-
nomic resources, and health. Findings from the study
indicate that kinship foster caregivers were older than non-
kinship foster caregivers, reported fewer social and eco-
nomic resources, and poorer health than non-kinship foster
caregivers, which results in unmet needs of kinship foster
caregivers and their children.
Although proximal processes within the family are con-
sidered as the primary mechanism of development, link
between contexts in which the child is directly situated also
affect their developmental trajectories (Schweiger and
O’Brien 2005). Experiences in on microsystem or experi-
ences involving a direct interaction may influence another
micro- system. Examination of mesosystem may be
important in understanding the relationships between the
microsystems, such as kin caregivers and biological fami-
lies. Few research studies suggest that kinship foster chil-
dren are likely to maintain ties with their birth families,
experience continuity of relationships and community
environment, develop cultural identity, and enter into the
home of a known person, thereby making the transition into
a non-parental care arrangements that are less traumatic
and disruptive (Schwartz 2002). Relatives can also provide
children with family support and frequent contacts with
their biological parents and siblings (Ehrle and Geen 2002).
A study conducted by Le Prohn (1994), which examined
the perceptions of caregiving role from a sample of 82 kin
and 98 non-kin foster families, reports that kinship foster
caregivers were significantly more likely to state that they
were responsible for helping the child deal with loss and
separation and ensuring the child’s continued contact with
his or her biological parents than were non-kin foster
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caregivers. The author notes that kinship foster caregivers
are also significantly more likely to feel responsible for the
child and wish to maintain a high level of involvement in
all aspects of the child’s life than do non-kinship foster
Researchers have also found that biological parents are
more likely to maintain visitations with their children and
be involved in kinship care placements than in traditional,
non-kinship foster care placements (Berrick and Barth
1994; Geen 2003; Greef 2001; Green and Goodman 2010).
Green and Goodman’s (2010) study examined birthparent
involvement within informal and formal kinship families
from a survey of 351 custodial grandmothers. The
researcher found that birthparents were twice as likely to be
highly involved if there was an informal kinship arrange-
ment, and they were 39% more likely when there was a
closerelationship with the
parents’ involvement, which may include face-to-face or
phone contacts, is critical to a child’s development; kinship
placements enable parents to be involved, which is crucial
for healthy child development and positive identity, and
family reunification (McWey and Mullis 2004).
As noted by Schweiger and O’Brien (2005), child
welfare professionals in general oppose contact between
children and their biological parents, citing the immediate
disruptions in children’s behavior and emotional state. A
number of studies, which focused on biological mothers
who are incarcerated, suggest that maintaining contact with
biological parents has long-term benefits of providing a
sense of security and continuity to children placed in kin-
ship care (e.g., Baker et al. 2010; Cecil et al. 2008). A
study by Cecil et al. (2008), which examined the adjust-
ment of young children of incarcerated mothers, found that
solidarity among co-caregivers is crucial for children’s
socio-emotional development and behavioral adaptation.
Children’s problem behaviors escalate when there is a
major lack of coordinating efforts between the caregiver
and the biological parents. Baker et al. (2010) also reports
from their study on mother-grandmother co-parenting
interaction fewer child problem behaviors when mothers
and grandmothers forge a collaborative effort to co-parent
during a mother’s incarceration. Additional empirical
research is needed on child welfare professionals’ percep-
tions of kinship foster children’s connection with their
biological parents, which would provide an implication for
the development of policies concerning contact between
children and their biological parents.
Exosystem consists of connections between two or more
interactions or settings, but only one directly affecting the
developing person (Bronfenbrenner 1977, 1994). The
quality of caregiver-child relationship can be influenced by
a larger system that is not directly experienced by the child,
such as social-support and involvement of child welfare
professionals. Ecological systems theory highlights the
importance of kinship foster caregivers’ experiences with
social-support network outside the family (e.g., relatives,
friends, and neighbor), which can affect their relationship
with their children. According to Turner et al. (1998),
conditions that may have some bearing on the availability
of social-support network theoretically fall within one of
six categories: 1) the caregivers’ placement in the social
structure representing their socio-economic status; 2) the
relationship between the caregiver and the care recipient;
3) the demands and conditions of caregiving; 4) the care-
givers’ social network attachment and their level of their
integration into the community or neighborhood; 5) the
caregivers’ personal assets and resources; and 6) the
caregivers’ use of formal community services.
There has been widespread interest in examining social-
support as a protective factor for stressful events in the
research community (Green and Rodgers 2001). Under-
standing how caregivers develop, perceive, maintain, and
engage in social-support is an important step towards better
knowledge about the types of social-support needed
in various situations (Cutrona and Russell 1990). Kin
caregivers’ social-support networks who engage in activi-
ties or exchanges of affective or material nature can reduce
the likelihood of stress (Hashima and Amato 1994) and
improve the quality of parenting practices (Cochran
and Brassard 1979). Several research studies (Bowers and
Meyers 1999; Kelley et al. 2000; Sands and Goldberg-
Glen 2000) have examined an association between social-
support and psychological stress among kin caregivers,
particularly grandparents. These studies found that lack of
social-support undermines parenting practices and nega-
tively affects caregiver-child relationships. For example,
Kelley et al. (2000) investigated several predictors of
psychological distress, such as social-support, family
resources, and physical health among 102 African Ameri-
can grandmother kinship care providers raising 223
grandchildren. The researchers found that social-support
was a major predictor; grandmothers who reported less
social-support had higher tendency to experience high level
of psychological distress, which had a major effect on their
caregiving practices. Other studies (e.g., Cole and Eamon
2007) also report that foster caregivers who perceived their
social-support network as helpful were less likely to report
experiencing depressive symptoms. Intervention programs
based on enhancing social-support has been recognized as
important in recent years, and thus research on social-
support process for informing an effective support-based
interventions for kin caregivers is critical (Green and
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Ecological systems theory emphasizes the impact of wider
society on individual level factors, such as how families
function and view themselves (Schweiger and O’Brien
2005). The macrosystem level has commonly been referred
to as a ‘‘cultural blueprint’’ that may influence social
structures and activities in the immediate system levels
(Bronfenbrenner 1977; as cited in Eamon 2001). Examples
of macrosystem level include, for example, race/ethnicity
and policies, which affect the particular conditions and
processes occurring in the microsystem, such as caregiver-
As reported by a number of studies (e.g., Beeman et al.
2000; Chipman et al. 2002; Ehrle and Geen 2002; Schwartz
2007), a disproportionate number of children placed in
foster care are racial minority children, particularly African
Americans. African American children are overrepresented
in the child welfare and are more likely to live in poverty
than children of other racial/ethnic group (Strozier and
Krisman 2007). It is also important to examine the social
relationships in kin network. Formal and informal care-
giving practices by relatives is particularly common among
African Americans (Kang 2007; Scannapieco and Jackson
1996), as it is consistent with African American tradition of
extended family structure and kin networks (Barrio and
Hughes 2000; Brown et al. 2002; Fuller-Thomson
and Minkler 2000; Hegar 1999; Smith 2000; Strozier and
Krisman 2007). As noted by Kang (2007), the phrase
‘‘kinship care’’ was coined by Stack (1974) whose ethno-
graphic study found extensive support networks within
African American extended families. According to Stack
(1974), kinship networks can be described as an exchange
system which demonstrates a collective adaptation to
poverty, and participants in this kind of exchange rela-
tionships are relatives and friends (i.e., kin) who are inter-
dependent and share a sense of obligation towards one
another). The long history of extended kin networks within
African American communities and the presence of kinship
networks have also been recognized as a common adaptive
response to racial discrimination and socio-economic bar-
riers within the African American community. Kinship
foster care is a natural response when biological parents
cannot adequately provide care for their children (see
Kinship care has also been perceived as a viable option
for racial minority children to maintain ties with their
family and cultural identity (Downs et al. 2000; Schwartz
2007, and cultural similarities between the caregiver and
children have been an important consideration for child
welfare professionals. Studies have shown that children
placed in kinship care are more likely to maintain con-
nections with their family and racial/ethnic community
than do children in non-kinship placements (Berrick et al.
1994; Testa and Slack 2002), which serve as key factors
promoting positive identity development (Schwartz 2007).
One of few studies on racial/ethnic identity and socializa-
tion experiences of African American youth in kinship and
non-kinship care placement, Schwartz (2007) reports that
African American youth in kinship care perceived their
ethnic identity as more positively than do their counterparts
in non-kinship placements. Kinship foster caregivers pro-
vided more opportunities for youth to develop a sense of
ethnic identity, whereas non-kin foster caregivers either did
little to expose the youth to African American history and
culture. The researcher also notes, however, that even if
kinship placements promote more positive racial/ethnic
identity formation, this advantage may be offset by envi-
ronmental challenges, such as poverty.
Kinship placement has been a preferred option by both
child welfare professionals and the state governments
(Goertzen et al. (n.d.)). One of the major issues concerning
kinship care is voluntary kinship care placement. Swann
and Sylvester (2006) report that over 75% of kinship care
arrangements are private placements, which occur without
child welfare involvement. According to the National
Survey of American Families, the number of voluntary
kinship care placement is approximately one-and-a-half
times greater than the number of formal kin care place-
ments (as cited in Geen 2003). Children in voluntary kin-
ship care comprise 72%;
involuntary kinship placements. Children in kinship care
request and receive fewer payment and services than non-
kin foster caregivers (Ehrle and Geen 2002; Geen 2003). In
many states, kinship foster caregivers do not receive foster
care payments. Both federal and state grants are contingent
upon licensing standards for foster caregivers. In 26 states
in 1999, some kinship foster caregivers were not eligible to
receive foster care payment, which has been attributed to
the fact that they were not licensed foster caregivers (Ehrle
and Geen 2002). According to the 1999 Child Welfare
Survey of the Urban Institute, twelve states estimated less
than half of kinship foster caregivers receive foster care
payment, and in five states, less than 10% receive payments
(as cited in Ehrle and Geen 2002).
The final level of Bronfenbrenner’s (1994) ecological
J Child Fam Stud (2011) 20:863–872867
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(e.g., historical and economic events) over the life course.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Recon-
ciliation Act (PRWORA), or ‘‘welfare reform,’’ which was
enacted in 1996, is an example of a major historical event,
which affected policies and services for kinship foster
caregivers. PRWORA replaced the Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which was first
established by the Social Security Act in 1935, with Tem-
porary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.
TANF imposed five-year time limits on public assistance
receipt, and required employment and job training require-
ments for public assistance recipients. After the welfare
reform, more kinship foster caregivers have turned to public
benefits, such as TANF, SSI, Food Stamps, Free and
Reduced Lunch, Social Security, and Medicaid (Berrick
et al. 1994). However, benefits for kinship foster caregivers
caregivers after the welfare reform (Anderson 2006).
Additionally, TANF changes occurred at a time when
state child welfare systems were experiencing major
increases in out-of-home foster care placements. Petit et al.
(1999) reported that out-of-home foster care placements
1996 (as cited by Anderson and Righton 2001). TANF was
also implemented simultaneously with the major changes in
the child welfare systems as mandated by the Adoption and
Safe Families Act of 1999 (P.A. 105-89, 1997). The act
tightened decision-making timelines involving reunification
decisions, which resulted in increased demands for kinship
foster care placements, but also tightened kinship care
licensing requirements (Anderson and Righton 2001).
Practice and Policy Implications
An ecological review of empirical studies on kinship foster
care has major policy and practice implications for kinship
foster caregivers and children. An important factor that
policy-makers and practitioners need to consider is that
kinship foster caregivers are significantly more likely to be
older, have low educational attainment, live in poverty, and
are more at risk of poor health than non-kinship foster
caregivers. Geen (2004) argues that policy-makers and
practitioners working with kinship foster caregiver and
children must initiate innovative intervention strategies for
providing care and support, given their age, lack of
adequate resources, and health conditions. While kinship
care has been accepted and expanded in all states, many
policy-makers fail to provide equal service provisions on
parity with services provided to foster families (Hawkins
and Bland 2002). Geen (2004) also notes that many kinship
foster caregivers receive little or no support before taking
children into their homes, have inadequate resources, and
are at a loss in their ability to comprehend the complexities
of the child welfare system. This is a major contrast to non-
kinship foster caretakers who receive support and have
resources. In order to address some of the many challenges
that beset policy and practice in kinship foster care, there is
a need for ecologically grounded strategies that employ
micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystem levels of
At the micro- and mesosystem levels, there is a need for
clinical therapeutic intervention and case coordination to
address issues such as caregiver-child relationships and
attachment problems kinship foster caretakers and children
may experience. It is also important that childcare workers
have requisite understanding of the dynamics that the child
and the caregiver present in a kinship foster care setting as
opposed to non-kinship foster care setting. Several studies
on kinship foster care system provide insight into practice
implications at the microsystem level of intervention. In her
study on the perceptions of children in kinship foster care,
Messing (2006) reports that children did not perceive kin-
ship foster care as a stigma due to the fact they were living
with relatives rather than a complete stranger. Kinship
foster care arrangement was not complicated for them and
represented a safe and secure environment. Initially, these
children expressed concerns about being placed in a non-
kinship foster home. O’Brien et al. (2001) report on relative
caregivers’ perceptions of child welfare policy and prac-
tices. When caregivers were asked to express their thoughts
concerning the child welfare system, they stated that they
were seeking respect, and recognition of their parenting
skills. These caregivers wanted to be informed consistently
of available services, and a major revision in the existing
foster care policies. They also expressed a need for infor-
mation on available support and services. The researchers
posit that although the caregivers expressed their love and
dedication to the child, they voiced concerns about their
added responsibilities along with lack of resources. They
expressed resentment towards the biological parents
because of their new responsibilities as caregivers.
There are several interventions programs for kinship
foster caregivers that have major implications for practi-
tioners. One such intervention is the Parent Management
Training (PMT) program. Chamberlain et al. (2008) eval-
uation study of PMT for foster caregivers indicated posi-
tive outcomes for both caregivers and their children.
Another intervention that practitioners may consider is the
Foster Pride/Adopt Pride. Christenson and McMurtry’s
(2007) study found that the Foster Pride/Adopt Pride
pre-service training and resources were effective family
868J Child Fam Stud (2011) 20:863–872
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development tools for parental training purposes for both
kinship and non-kinship foster caregivers.
Peters (2005) emphasized the importance of the child
welfare workers’ attitudes toward kinship foster care sys-
tem. The researcher conducted a content analysis of child
welfare workers’ responses during kinship foster care
training. This was done based on the premises that child-
care workers beliefs and attitudes may influence placement
decisions. Results of the analysis reveals that child welfare
workers on the one hand have positive feelings toward
kinship foster caregivers; on the other hand, child welfare
workers expressed dissatisfaction towards the amount of
time it takes in kinship foster care placements, complica-
tions of using the child welfare worker to restructure the
power dynamics in the family, the lack of clear policies on
foster care system, and the risks associated with kinship
foster care placements. Comprehensive Relative Enhance-
ment Support and Training Project (CREST) is a viable
resource for kinship foster caregivers and child welfare
professionals, as indicated in Hawkins and Bland’s (2002)
study. CREST not only improved relative caregivers’
overall functioning but the program was also found to be
cost effective particularly when child welfare professionals
are involved. Gladstone and Brown’s (2007) study explored
the circumstances under which grandparent caregivers and
child welfare professionals have contact with one another.
The researchers found that positive relationships between
grandparents and social workers can be perceived as
exchange of resources. These studies point to the need for
more collaboration between child welfare professionals
and kinship foster caregivers, and pre-service training for
kinship foster caregivers and child welfare professionals.
At the exosystem level, there is a need for education and
training, as well as increased social-support services for
kinship foster caregivers. Kelleyet al. (2001) conducted an
exploratory intervention study of a multimodal, home-
based intervention designed to reduce psychological dis-
tress, enhance physical and mental health, and strengthen
social-support and resources for grandparents raising
grandchildren. The intervention consisted of home visits by
registered nurses, social workers, and legal assistants,
which lasted for duration of six months. The intervention
resulted in improved mental health, decreased psycholog-
ical distress, and increased social-support, which in turn
improved the relationship between grandparents and their
It is also imperative that practitioners recognize the
importance of the extended family network particularly for
racial and ethnic minority families. As studies have shown
(e.g., Christenson and McMurtry 2007), racial and ethnic
minority families to a large degree are disproportionately
over-represented in child welfare system, and minority
children are significantly more likely to be placed in
kinship care than White children. Several studies (Crewe
and Wilson 2007; Gourdine 2007; Taylor et al. 2008) point
out that strong kinship bonds, religious connections, and
extended family network are relevant source of social-
support for African American families. Although Hill’s
(2003) study found that the extended families appear to be
steadily declining in African American families, grand-
parents play a major role in raising grandchildren in
African American communities (Gourdine 2007).
At the macrosystem level, there is a major need to review
the existing child welfare policy in areas of permanency
non-kinship foster caregivers, and placement outcomes for
children in kinship foster care. Hawkins and Bland (2002)
suggest that the current foster care policies must be revised
in order to provide support for kinship foster caregivers and
children rather than focusing solely on adoption. Geen
(2004) concurs by arguing that legislators must implement
policies that specifically meet the needs kinship foster
caregivers, such as instruction and information about
available resources, available support groups from the
communities, and how to deal with children’s behavioral
problems (Strozier and Krisman 2007). One way to enact
policies that are in the best interest of kinship foster care-
givers and their children is for policy-makers to collaborate
with child welfare workers and practitioners working with
caregivers and children.
A number of researchers (Anderson 2006; Gourdine
2007; O’Brien et al. 2001) suggest that TANF requires a
re-evaluation to assess if the legislation is sufficiently
meeting the needs for families in need, particularly kinship
foster care families. Gourdine (2007) maintains that the
child welfare systems have increasingly relied on relatives
to bear responsibility of childrearing since the enactment of
TANF. Consequently, TANF and informal kinship foster
care arrangements resulted in substantially less financial
support for families. O’Brien et al. (2001) assert that kin-
ship foster caregivers seeking permanent guardianship need
financial assistance and other tangible support.
Clearly, factors in all five levels of the ecological systems
theory play a significant role in the well-being of kinship
foster care children and families. While empirical studies
J Child Fam Stud (2011) 20:863–872869
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reveal several benefits to kinship foster care such as
increased contact with biological families, preservation of
culture, absence of stigma as ‘‘foster care children,’’ and
comfort of being with a family member, there is an
immense need for increased support from communities,
child care workers, and policy-makers. Kinship foster
caregivers, who are most in need of support and services,
are the ones who are receiving it the least; and in order to
ensure positive family environments for kinship foster care
children, their needs must be addressed by practitioners and
In sum, kinship foster care has been perceived as a
viable option for children whose biological parents cannot
care for them. Since the child welfare system continues to
rely on this system as a means to accommodate children
in need, practitioners and policy-makers must actively
address their needs in order to ensure there service needs
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