Academic journal article Child Welfare

Protective Factors as Mediators and Moderators of Risk Effects on Perceptions of Child Well-Being in Kinship Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Protective Factors as Mediators and Moderators of Risk Effects on Perceptions of Child Well-Being in Kinship Care

Article excerpt

Children who live apart from their parents and are cared for by relatives often experience many risks that threaten their general well-being and can result in their experiencing poor developmental outcomes. Children who reside in kinship care are vulnerable to substance abuse, juvenile justice system involvement, mental health disorders, early pregnancy, and incomplete educational attainment (Denby, 2016). Moreover, other risk factors include economic and material disadvantage (Ehrle & Geen, 2002), compromised caregiver health (Harden, Clyman, Kriebel, & Lyons, 2004), limited educational stimulation, and supports (Guo & Harris, 2000), lack of a secondary caregiver (Font, 2014) and caregivers' inadequate parenting capacity (Shlonsky & Berrick, 2001).

Although much is known about the risks that children face when living in kinship care, very little is known about the protective factors that families possess, which may mediate and potentially moderate those risks. According to Development Services Group and Child Welfare Information Gateway (2015), "protective factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that, when present, promote well-being and reduce the risk for negative outcomes. These factors may mediate risk exposure and, importantly, may 'buffer' the effects of risk exposure by helping individuals and families negotiate difficult circumstances and fare better in school, work, and life" (p. 1). The protective attributes of individuals include a sense of self-efficacy, purpose, self-regulation skills, relational skills, problem-solving skills, and involvement in positive activities (Development Services Group and Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015). The purpose of the study was to determine what, if any, are the caregiver protective factors that mediate risk factors and potentially moderate adversity and improve levels of child well-being for children being cared for by kinship caregivers.

Literature Review and Empirical Framework

Strengths Perspective and Family Resilience

A growing appreciation of extended familial bonds has broadened contemporary views of family life in American society, which include family configurations beyond the nuclear family. Kinship care has contributed to this expanded notion by demonstrating the major roles that grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and other relatives play when custodial needs cannot be met by parents. When support services, training, and access to resources-both therapeutic and educational-are readily available, family members providing care for their young relatives are apt to feel empowered to do so. The belief that within each family's ecosystem there are inherent strengths that explicitly and tacitly serve as pillars to undergird a member's well-being is the very foundation of a strengths-based perspective. The strengths-based model mirrors social work values, including self-determination, empowerment, and the inherent worth and dignity of all people (Corcoran & Pillai, 2009; Cummins, Sevel, & Pedrick, 2006). As Saleebey (1996, 2008) and Weick, Rapp, Sullivan, and Kishardt (1989) remind us, all people have natural abilities, assets, and competencies to address their situations, no matter how dire or problematic their situations may look.

Everyday realities may place some prospective caregivers near the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Confidence in their motivation and capacity to parent, and the availability of support from other relatives, are critical to assessing their readiness to assume the valued role of kinship caregiver. Child-rearing patterns and parenting skills, for instance, differ depending on one's cultural and socioenvironmental upbringing. Denby and Curtis (2013), Grant (2012), and Lin (2014) highlight the importance of the way workers probe and inquire about the needs, skills, and capacities of prospective caregivers. In assessing a kinship caregiver's ability to parent, the child's needs are best served by workers engaging in solution-focused questioning and respectful dialogue about parenting styles as a way to affirm the dignity of potential providers. …

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