Measuring Social Support among Kinship Caregivers: Confirming the Factor Structure of the Family Support Scale

By Kondrat, David; Swanke, Jayme R. et al. | Child Welfare, May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Measuring Social Support among Kinship Caregivers: Confirming the Factor Structure of the Family Support Scale


Kondrat, David, Swanke, Jayme R., Littlewood, Kerry, Strozier, Anne, Child Welfare


In recent years, the number of children being raised by a kinship caregiver has increased. Kinship care is defined by the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) as "the full time care, nurturing, and protection of children by relatives, members of their tribes or clans, godparents, stepparents, or any adult who as a kinship bond with a child" (CWLA, 2007). In 2010, grandparents in the United States solely cared for more than 1.6 million children. In addition, other relatives assumed caregiving responsibilities for 2.1 million children without the presence of a biological parent (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). Assuming the role of surrogate parent for relative children can create new problems for the caregiver and exacerbate existing challenges including poverty, physical and mental health problems, and declining levels of social support (Burnette, 1999a, 1999b; Kelley, Whitley, Sipe, & Yorker, 2000).

An important resource for kinship caregivers is social support. Caplan (1974) defines social support as formal and informal relationships with individuals and groups through which a person receives the emotional, cognitive, and material supports necessary to master a stressful experience. Informal support networks include family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Formal support encompasses paid service providers, social workers, teachers, and physicians (Caplan, 1974). For relatives who accept the role of kinship caregiver, both sources of social support can be difficult to access; yet social support is vital to the well-being of both the caregiver and the children (Kelley, Whitley, & Campos, 2011).

Kinship caregiving can also be divided into categories of formal versus informal. Although the conceptualization of formal and informal kinship care can vary by state, formal kinship care often refers to the placement of children with grandparents and other relatives by the Child Welfare System after an investigation of child abuse or neglect. Informal caregiving often occurs when children are placed in the care of a relative by their biological parents or family members. Informal kinship caregiving is much more common than formal caregiving, and informal caregivers receive fewer supports though their needs are usually greater (Selwyn et al. 2013). Informal caregivers often experience financial challenges, health problems, depression and anxiety, and less formal and informal social support than formal caregivers (Selwyn, et al., 2013). In addition, the support that informal caregivers receive from friends and families often lessens with age due to increased illness and frailty (Farmer et al, 2013) and death. The growing body of research concerning social support in kinship care has used the Family Support Scale (FSS) to measure social support among caregivers (Littlewood et al, 2013; Kelley et al., 2011; Kelley et al., 2000; Leder, Nicholson Ginstrea, & Torres, 2007). Until recently, no research has been published on the psychometric properties or the underlying factor structure of the FSS when it is used to measure social support among kinship caregivers. While each item in an instrument provides useful information, understanding the underlying factor structure of those questions can aid in interpreting the larger meaning of these questions by placing them into interpretable factors (subscales). The questions in each of the factors can be combined to obtain an underlying score for each of the factors.

The researchers have previously (2012) explored the factor structure of the FSS when administered to informal kinship caregivers and found that the FSS is comprised of four factors: Spouse/Partner's Family and Peers, Formal Professional Support, Informal Community Support, and Familial and Peer Support. The goal of the current research is to continue the process of confirming the reliability and validity of the underlying factor structure of the FSS.

Family Support Scale

The Family Support Scale (FSS) was developed to examine the level of social support perceived by parents raising children with developmental disabilities (Dunst, Jenkins, & Trivette, 1984). …

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