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Helping 'Kinship Caregivers'

Many children are being raised by grandparents, other relatives and even family friends or neighbors. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (June 27, 2019) — More than 193,000 children in New York State are living with extended family members or family friends or neighbors rather than their own parents.

The Center for Human Services Research (CHSR) at the University at Albany is evaluating the effectiveness of interventions for these caregivers — grandparents, other relatives and even family friends or neighbors -- who are serving as caregivers for these children. Together, these are known as “kinship caregivers.”

The Center received a grant of almost $125,000 from the New York State Kinship Navigator program to evaluate an intervention for kinship caregivers. The goal of the intervention is to strengthen family stability, safety, well-being and permanency for youth in these households.

Lauren Polvere and Mandi Breen are co-principal investigators.

The project Kinship Navigator System of Care Evaluation is sponsored by Kinship Navigator, an organization within the Catholic Family Center of Rochester. The Navigator provides information and assistance via its statewide helpline and website, as well as education and advocacy.

According to Center Senior Research Scientist Lauren Polvere, many kinship caregivers did not expect to be raising “kin” children.

“Common reasons for placements of children include parental substance abuse, child neglect and maltreatment, parental divorce, youthful pregnancy of the child’s mother, parental job instability/economic insecurity, and parental incarceration or death,” Polvere said.

Kinship caregivers often face a lack of resources and support, including financial support, when they take in the kids.

They are disproportionately impacted by poverty; are often financially strained by housing costs; and are less likely to receive social services even if they are eligible.

“Taking in the children has also been shown to impact physical health status, particularly among older kinship caregivers. Caregiver stress is not uncommon in this population, with related mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression,” Polvere said.

Breen said kinship caregivers have a tendency to fall between the cracks because they are not formally connected to the state’s child welfare system.

“Most don’t pursue approval as a foster home, and not all pursue legal permanency options either, such as obtaining legal guardianship of the kin child. So these families often exist outside of traditional supports and need more targeted outreach from organizations familiar with the unique needs of kinship families,” she said.

The term “kinship caregiver” also can include someone who is not a blood relative, but is still close to the child, such as a friend’s parents. These are known as “fictive kin.”

The study includes Niagara, Oswego, Dutchess and Broome counties upstate, and agencies in Queens and Brooklyn as well.

There are two arms of the project. The first is a local service intervention. Participants receive peer-to-peer support groups and case management in these counties.

The second is the Kinship Navigator’s service via its helpline. Kinship caregivers around the state contact the helpline and receive information and referral services. For this project, Kinship Navigator is providing “virtual case management,” in which caregivers are referred to services that meet their needs (e.g., assistance completing financial support applications; referrals to mental health or other support services) in selected target counties: Warren, Saratoga, Hamilton, Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer and Onondaga.

An outcome evaluation will be conducted to measure how the program impacts the stability of placements, family stress and the well-being of the children. A successful evaluation will qualify the Kinship Navigator intervention for federal child welfare funding.

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