Academic journal article Child Welfare

Using Family Group Decision Making to Assist Informal Kinship Families

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Using Family Group Decision Making to Assist Informal Kinship Families

Article excerpt

A three-year project was funded under a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 Family Connection Discretionary grant. The Children's Home Society of New Jersey (CHSofNJ) program compared the outcomes of two groups of informal kinship caregivers and their families in Mercer County, New Jersey. One group received only case management services. The other received a combination of case management and participated in at least one Family Group Decision Making (FGDM) conference.

CHSofNJ has extensive experience working with all aspects of improving the safety, well-being, and permanence of children and their families. The Agency was founded in 1894 as New Jersey's first orphanage and child placement agency, and has continued to serve the state's most at-risk children, youth, and families in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. CHSofNJ is a founding member of the Child Welfare League of America. The Agency has provided services to kinship families since 2000 through a kinship navigator program, a Grand Family Drop-In Center and the provision of case management services through two federal demonstration grants.

Literature Review

"Kinship care has become increasingly important in meeting the needs of children involved in the child welfare system or at risk of becoming involved in that system" (James Bell Associates, 2010, p. 3). Nationwide, relative foster care comprised 29% (120,334) of out-of-home placements in federal FY 2014 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2015). In New Jersey, 39% of children in out-ofhome care now reside in kin homes (Department of Children and Families, 2016). These public kinship homes have been licensed as resource homes. The caregivers receive a monthly stipend and supportive services, unlike private and voluntary caregivers of children in informal kinship care.

The best estimate of the number of kinship caregivers, both formal and informal, is 7,409 in Mercer County, New Jersey. Thirty-two percent of these caregivers provide care for their grandchildren with no biological parent present (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014). This is likely an undercount of kin caregivers since it does not account for placements made with other relatives.

Informal kinship care providers care for kin either privately or voluntarily without a court-ordered formal placement and supervision by a child welfare agency. Thus, they are less likely to be the beneficiaries of financial support and social services from the public child welfare system (Coleman & Wu, 2016; Lin, 2014). These caregivers are generally older, have fewer financial resources, and are in poorer health (Hong, Algood, Chiu, & Lee, 2011). The long-term unmet needs of these caregivers-due to low incomes and lack of support-may have a meaningful impact on their ability to parent their kin child who may not receive needed services (Coleman & Wu, 2016; Hong et al., 2011; Lin, 2014). If the home environment is stressful, it may also directly impact the child's well-being (Hong et al., 2011). Informal caregivers may also have less time for addressing personal issues or participating in social activities and can feel isolated (Lin, 2014). They may have to make significant adjustments in their lives and relationships. Their caregiving role may also strain their relationship with the child's birth parents, which could precipitate or increase the kin child's problem behaviors (Gordon, McKinley, Satterfield & Curtis, 2003; Hong et al., 2011; Kiraly & Humphreys, 2015).

Without supportive services, caregivers may not be able to meet their kin child's needs or may be at risk of relinquishing their kin child to the legal custody of the child welfare system. One approach, funded by a three-year, 2009 Family Connection Discretionary Grant, expanded an existing kinship navigator program that offered very brief services to a program employing six case managers, providing services for up to six months per family in New Jersey (Feldman & Fertig, 2013). …

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