Resiliency in Children and Youth in Kinship Care and Family Foster Care

Article excerpt

This study examined self-concept, resiliency, and social support in 107 children and youth placed in foster care in New York City. Of the children and youth, 55 were placed in family foster care, while the remaining 52 children and youth were placed in a kinship foster home. Significantly more of mothers of the kinship foster care children and youth were homeless or substance abusing, yet visited their children more often than the family foster care youth. These same kinship-placed children and youth had significantly more robust self-concept, performance, and personal attribute scores. Implications for these findings are highlighted.

Since 1985, there has been a dramatic and rapid increase in the number of children requiring foster care placement (Danzy & Jackson, 1997; Hawkins & Bland, 2002). Beginning nationally with the 1979 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Youakim, 440 U.S. 125, and in New York state with the 1986 Eugene F. v. Gross case, the legal mandate for kinship has been upheld. Formal kinship foster care is thus a relatively new service (Scannapieco & Hegar, 1996). It is important to understand how kinship foster care, as a newer service, works or does not work to support the children, youth, and families involved and to what extent it is or is not similar to family foster care.

The legal mandate for foster care in the United States rests in the doctrine of "Parens Patriae/7 This doctrine mandates state intervention when parents cannot provide for the safety or welfare of their children. Children come into care via a number of different routes - parental neglect, abuse, becoming an orphan, or voluntary placement by their parents (Gurak, Smits, & Goldson, 1982; National Commission on Foster Care, 1991). Fueled by the argument made by the ecological perspective, child welfare policy began a move toward a family-centered model in the 1980s (Thoburn, 1988). In this model, the family is seen as the client, and an underlying value is that the client system is to be valued and empowered (Thoburn, 1988). From a policy perspective, the move toward a family-centered perspective was supported by the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. This shift requires that the child be viewed not as an isolated entity, but as a member of a larger family network. This thinking has been further mandated and integrated by the implementation of the Adoption and Safe Family Act of 1997.

The move toward kinship foster care seems to be a direct outgrowth of the paradigmatic shift toward a family-centered ecological child welfare practice (Crumbley & Little, 1997; Smith & Beltran, 2000) and the legal decisions supporting kinship foster care mentioned earlier. Foster care in the new millennium can be characterized by the focus on an ecological, family-centered perspective with the goal of permanence for every child, all under the mandate of placement in the least restrictive, most family-like setting. As a part of this strategy, kinship placements have become the placement of choice in many areas of the country (Hawkins & Bland, 2002; Vericker, Macomber, & Geen, 2008).

The history of relatives caring for children who cannot be cared for by their birthparents (particularly by older female kin) is as old as the history of families (Cox, 2000; Stack, 1974). This tradition is stronger in some cultures than in others, particularly in the African American (Goodman, Potts, Pasztor, & Scorzo, 2004; Danzy & Jackson, 1997; Stack, 1974) and Hispanic (Burnette, 1999; Vidal, 1988) cultures. The strong helping tradition in the African American family has been seen as an extension of West African culture and was further developed to protect against the ravages of slavery (Danzy & Jackson, 1997; Gray & Nybell, 1990). Gray and Nybell described how this tradition has developed into a long-standing practice of complex kinship networks assuming and providing care for children in the community who needed help. …