Child Welfare Professionals' Attitudes toward Kinship Foster Care

Article excerpt

This article reports on a survey of 261 urban, metropolitan, and rural child welfare professionals regarding their perceptions of kinship foster care. Most professionals had generally positive perceptions of kinship foster parents' motivations and competence, and of kinship foster care. Participants also believed that kinship placements were more difficult to supervise than nonkin placements, and that agencies needed to make changes in practice and policy to accommodate kin. Differences in perceptions by race of the child welfare professionals are included.

Kinship foster care-the formal placement of children into the care of relatives or others with close familial ties by the state or county child protection agency-is a rapidly growing form of out-of-home placement for children. In most states, kinship foster care is the preferred option for out-of-home placement [Gleeson & Craig 1994]; according to one national survey, the percentage of children placed in kinship foster care grew from 18% in 1986 to 31% in 1990 [Kusserow 1992]. Kinship foster care's growth is due to multiple factors: the increasing number of children in placement, the declining number of available nonkin foster families, and the growing acknowledgment of kin as a resource [Child Welfare League of America 1994]. Kinship foster care brings both new possibilities and new challenges to child welfare professionals, yet little is known about child welfare professionals' perceptions and attitudes about kinship foster care and the families it serves. Do child welfare professionals support the placement of children with kin? Do they view kinship foster care differently than nonkinship foster care? This article reports on the results of a survey of child welfare professionals in Minnesota regarding their attitudes toward kinship foster care.

Background

Although research on kinship foster care has increased over the past several years, most studies have focused on the characteristics of children in kinship foster care, including their health and mental health needs [Dubowitz et al. 1992, 1993, 1994; Inglehart 1994; Landsverk et al.1996], on the characteristics of kinship foster parents [Berrick et al.1994; Dubowitz et al.1993,1994; LeProhn & Pecora 1994; Thornton 1987], and on the outcomes for children in kinship foster care [Link 1996; Benedict et al.1996]. Other publications have proposed practice models for kinship foster care [Ingram 1996; Scannapieco & Hegar 1996; Jackson 1996; Mills & Usher 1996]. Missing from the literature, however, is research describing child welfare professionals' views of kinship foster care. Although some have speculated that child welfare professionals and child welfare agencies are reluctant to fully support kinship foster care [Goerge et al.1994; Gray & Nybell 1990; Laird 1979; Meyer & Link 1990; Johnson 1994], few studies have collected data directly from workers. A review of the literature uncovered only two studies that focused on the perceptions and attitudes of child welfare professionals toward kinship foster care [Thornton 1987; Berrick et al. 1995]. Yet the experiences and perceptions of child welfare professionals are important in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of current social work practice in kinship foster care. As child welfare agencies struggle to fit kinship foster care within the existing system of out-of-home care, the perspective of workers will play a vital role in successful kinship foster care practice.

Method

Research Questions

This study sought to answer the following research questions: What are child welfare professionals' perceptions of kinship foster parents? Do they perceive of the kinship foster parents' role as different from that of nonkinship foster parents? Do they see their role and the role of the agency as different when they work with kinship versus nonkinship foster parents? What is their experience in working with kinship foster parents and how is it similar to or different from their work with nonkinship foster parents? …