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Views on kinship care

Children’s views

Given the increase in the use of kinship care, research has also examined children and young people’s views on kin placements. In the main, children and young people do appear to value kinship care and develop quality attachments to their caregivers (Burgess, Rossvoll, Wallace & Daniel, 2010). This section summarises research that reports on how children/young people: experience and perceive kincare, any concerns they may have, and issues pertaining to kinship care that are important to them. The value in considering this research is that it highlights the diversity of experiences/perceptions children and young people may possess. It also assists in emphasising the needs of children residing in these placements.

A number of studies have specifically examined children and young people’s perceptions and experience of kinship care. These findings are best conceptualised as insights from some children and thus are not generalisable. Children in kinship placements may:

  1. feel a sense of belonging and not wish to reunify with their parents (Burgess et al, 2010) or

  2. feel hopeful that they will eventually live with their biological parents (Messing, 2006)

  3. consider that living with kin is preferable to being in foster care (Burgess et al, 2010)

  4. not feel different to their peers but rather view their arrangements as just a different family form within a diverse society (Burgess et al, 2010). Alternatively, some children may feel different to their peers (Aldgate, 2009)

  5. not feel stigmatised by their care arrangements (Messing, 2006)

  6. perceive their kincarers as supportive and understanding (Burgess et al, 2010)

  7. feel safe and secure (Burgess et al, 2010; Broad, 2004)

  8. feel valued and like being cared for by someone who loves them and offers permanency (Messing, 2006; Broad, 2004)

  9. be fond of their carers and siblings (Messing, 2010)

  10. view contact with family, familial relationships (including biological parents) as important (Messing, 2010)

  11. appreciate being out of a difficult situation and value the stability and predictability of their current arrangements (Aldgate, 2009)

  12. understand and value the importance of caregiving (Messing, 2006)

  13. be optimistic about their future (Broad, 2004) and

  14. feel more secure when kincarers have legal rights (Messing, 2006).

Children in kinship care may be concerned or worried about:

  1. the nature of their relationship with biological parents, particularly if contact was missed or the ‘inability to spend time with them’ (Messing, 2006, p. 1424)

  2. the possibility of being moved into foster care (Messing, 2006)

  3. the health and wellbeing of their relative caregiver (particular if older caregiver) (Burgess et al, 2010, p. 302)

  4. about their own future (Broad, 2004)

  5. how to manage the negative experiences they had prior to moving into kinship care (Broad, 2004)

  6. communicating with their grandparent (generational issues) (Boetto, 2010)

  7. grandparents’ health, energy and financial capacity (if grandparent is the carer) (Boetto, 2010) and

  8. not being sufficiently listened to or supported by professional staff (Broad, 2004).

Besides the advantages and possible concerns for children, for some, kinship care has its challenges, namely: “adapting to different household, adapting to different styles of parenting and moving to a different area with accompanying loss of friends” (Aldgate, 2009, p. 55). Research has also highlighted that some children may not fully understand why they require kinship care. For example, one third of the children in Aldgate’s (2009) research were not clear about this issue. This research finding highlights the importance of ensuring appropriate explanations are provided to children about the reasons for out-of-home care (Aldgate, 2009).
Parents’ views on kinship care and contact

The emotions and impacts of kinship care are not exclusive to children and carers. Birth parents can experience a range of feelings which may impact upon their behavior towards the kincarer and their child. Despair, shame, intense feelings of grief and loss are some of the reactions parents may have when their children are removed and placed in out-of-home care (Harries, 2008; Thorpe & Thomson, 2004 cited in Harries, 2008, McHugh 2009). Some parents may require assistance from professional staff to reinstate a positive role with their children and kin2 (Gleeson & Seryak, 2010).

Although, relationships between birth parents and kin may be amicable and positive, intense parental emotions can result in difficulties with placement arrangements. For example, some parents may be hostile towards a placement and try to undermine it. This may result in behavior such as: critiquing and complaining about the care of their child, raising allegations against the kin and being verbally and physically aggressive towards kin (Farmers and Moyers, 2008; Farmer, 2009; Farmer, 2010).

Contact can also be experienced as difficult for kin. Some carers feel unsure about how to manage tricky contact situations and therefore assistance may be required. Professionals may need to be skilled in mediation and counseling (McHugh, 2009). Notably, unsupervised, difficult contact arrangements have been identified as a possible factor in kinship placement disruption (Farmer, 2009; Farmer, 2010; Cuddeback, 2004). The relationship and attitude of both the parent and the kincarer can influence the success or otherwise of contact arrangements (Ziminski, 2007).

Practitioners are well placed to assist in building and facilitating a positive relationship between kin and birth parents. Birth parents are significant stakeholders in the kinship system and can continue to have a positive influence in their children’s lives. Many birth parents do continue to be actively involved via visiting, child care and decision-making (Green et al, 2010, p. 1363).

Key messages

The outcomes on kinship care are inconclusive. Positive outcomes provisionally reported are: placement stability, continuity of relationships and behavioural development.

Children may be slower or less likely to reunify with their biological families when in kinship care. This issue requires critical consideration and monitoring.

Children residing in some kinship placements may be experiencing greater ‘environmental’ hardship due to the demographic features of their caregivers.

Kincarers may persevere with difficulties longer than non-kin carers which may have adverse implications for the carer, the child and the quality of the placement. This issue needs careful assessment as the duration of unacceptable placements can be longer in kin as compared to foster placements.

Successful kinship care placements are more likely if: the child is younger, the child has minimal problems, the child has previously resided with kin, the kin initiated the placement, the kin is the grandparent, the kin is the sole carer, and no other siblings live in the household.

Disruption or less favourable outcomes for children in kinship may occur if: parent has drug issues, has multiple partners or is involved in prostitution; the child is older (ten and above); the carer is not highly committed to the child; both child and carer do not know each other well; the child has significant health and disability issues; the child is placed with an aunt and/or uncle; and contact is not supervised.

Children’s views and experience of kinship care should be sought so as to ascertain perceptions and any concerns.

Some children in kinship care did not have a clear understanding of the reasons for their placement. Checking understandings and appropriate explanations about their histories may be required.

Birth parents’ needs and feelings should not be neglected. Placement arrangements and contact can be affected. Kincarers may need assistance with contact.

Figure 1: Assessment topics

Ability of the kincarer to meet the needs of the child

Quality of the relationship between caregiver and child or level of attachment (attention should also be given to kincarer understanding of the child)

Relationship with birth parents – will they support or undermine the placement?

Existing family relationships, dynamics, potential difficulties and issues

Capacity of kincarer to respond to and manage family dynamics

Capacity of the kincarer to ensure the child’s safety

Kincarers’ parenting capacity

Capacity and perception of role change within kin network

Kincarer health, wellbeing, current lifestyle capacity and commitments

Capacity to manage family contact

Views of the child, birth parents and carers

Ability to identify and acknowledge difficulties

Kincarers’ capacity to change and alter his/her behaviour if needed

Identification and discussion of strengths, potential stressors and support needs.

(Ziminski, 2007; Chang & Liles, 2007; Green et al, 2010; Child Welfare League of America, 2000 cited in Cuddeback, 2004; Sheahan & Klaassen, 2010; Pitcher, 2001 cited in McHugh, 2009; McHugh, 2009; Farmer & Moyers, 2008; Calder & Talbot, 2006; Coakley et al, 2007; Green et al 2010).

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