Besides support groups and educational programs, few studies have specifically examined how other programs could improve the lives of kinship caregivers, especially for older women. Kinship navigator programs are social service delivery programs intended to inform grandparents and other relatives raising children about available resources and services, provide information specific to their individual needs, and help families navigate service systems.
- About 2.6 million children are being raised in kinship care with no birth parents in the home (3.5% of all children in the United States), which often only include children who have been placed in the home of a relative due to child maltreatment.
- For every child in foster care with relatives, there are 20 children being raised by grandparents or other relatives outside the foster care system, who have more difficulty connecting to resources and support compared to children involved in the child welfare system.
- Kinship care has been on the rise for the past decade, and this growth is most dramatic among families headed by older women with the least amount of financial resources and the highest social service needs.
- Custodial grandparenting can be especially challenging for older grandmothers facing age-specific issues, such as 55-and-older living communities’ restrictions of including children on the property and physical and mobility issues associated with caregiving.
Florida has conducted one of the only randomized control trials for a kinship navigator program, Kinship Navigator-Children’s Home Network, Florida, a community-based program using peer navigators providing assistance with program eligibility and enrollment with a laptop in grandmother’s home and access to an interdisciplinary team. Compared with peer-to-peer support, formal care, and usual foster care supports, the Kinship Navigator-Children’s Home Network, Florida program pilot showed significantly higher self-report scores in arenas related to caring for their placed child.
- At the 12-month follow-up period, kinship caregivers enrolled in Kinship Navigator-Children’s Home Network, Florida scored higher in Family Functioning, Social Supports, Concrete Supports, Child Development, and Nurturing & Attachment.
- Kinship Caregivers enrolled in traditional Child Welfare services had lower scores in protective factors at the 12-month follow-up period.
- Peer-to-Peer-Only group were grandparents raising grand-children who had varying levels of education and experience in helping others, which has highlighted the importance of using peers because they have close ties to the communities they serve.
Because child welfare services have historically served the needs of parents and foster parents, these results suggest that these traditional services may need to be culturally tailored to better meet the nuanced needs of relative caregivers, especially older caregivers. Future research could better identify the needs of older grandmothers providing care within the child welfare system. Child welfare service systems have difficulties in engaging with older relatives, who may experience more limitations, especially with younger children who require more current and up-to-date parenting practice recommendations.
Usual care or traditional services may not meet the dynamic needs of these families that often take a multidisciplinary approach informed by knowledge about services and supports available in the community. A custodial grandmother who is struggling with enrolling a grandchild in school faces a multitude of barriers.
While the grandmother does not have custodial rights, she may also be unable to vaccinate the child as a requirement for enrollment and unable to purchase school supplies. A multidisciplinary approach will convene school administrators, legal aid, a local health department, a local area agency on aging, TANF or child welfare or financial assistance offices, and other community-based agencies to coordinate and meet these complex needs; while traditional child welfare services, may be unequipped or under-resourced to spend the time and resources to pursue these multisystem challenges.
This research highlights the importance of using peer support and including peers in service delivery models tailored to meet the needs of multi-generational families. Grand-parents raising grandchildren have the capacity to provide leadership and peer support when needed.
Future policy work will need to use the results of kinship navigator demonstration projects to support design, implementation, and evaluation of these programs to provide community-based services and supports for both informal and formal families.
Furthermore, replication of kinship navigator programs could build capacity in data collection and maintenance systems to gain a more complete picture about how systems of care impact the family.
Pandey, A., Littlewood, K., Cooper, L., McCrae, J.,
Rosenthal, M., Day, A. & Hernandez, L. (2018). Connecting older grandmothers raising grandchildren with com-munity resources improves family resiliency, social support, and caregiver self-efficacy. Journal of Women and Aging. DOI: 10.1080/08952841.2018.1444940