Children who live with a relative after suffering neglect or abuse at home have fewer ongoing behavioral and social problems than those placed in foster care; however, they may face a higher risk of teen pregnancy and substance abuse, according to researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The results also show that relatives, or kinship caregivers, receive less support than foster parents.
The findings are significant because while most children removed from their homes are placed in foster care, kinship care is on the rise, said senior author Dr. Glenn Flores, professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern. Over 125,000 U.S. children removed from their immediate families are now staying with relatives, partly because the number of available foster homes has decreased.
“Our findings indicate that kinship caregivers are significantly more likely to be single, unemployed, older and live in poorer households, yet they receive fewer support services than unrelated foster parents,” said Flores, who also serves as head of general pediatrics at UT Southwestern and chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
“Increased caregiver support services, such as additional financial aid and parent training classes, are needed urgently for kinship caregivers.”
For the study, data was pulled from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being to compare family services, health and health care outcomes for children in kinship care and foster care. The Department of Health and Human Services survey included a random sampling of children 14 and younger who were taken out of their homes because of maltreatment between October 1999 and December 2000.
The study included 1,308 children and their caregivers; 572 children were living with relatives and 736 were in foster care. Researchers held personal interviews at the beginning of the study and again after three years, evaluating the children’s behavioral, mental health and health-service use. Caregivers received different types of services, including monetary support, parent education and training, peer support groups, and respite care.
At the three-year follow-up, those who had been living with a relative were far more likely to have had a permanent caregiver than the children placed in foster care as well as fewer ongoing behavioral and social problems. However, they also had a sevenfold risk of pregnancy and twice the risk of substance abuse as those placed in foster care.
Investigators also found that kinship caregivers were four times more likely than foster parents to not have a high school diploma and three times as likely to have a household income less than $20,000 per year. Kinship caregivers were also less than half as likely to receive any type of monetary support, four times less likely to receive parent training and seven times less likely to take part in peer support groups or respite care.
“It’s pretty clear that although kids placed in kinship care are less likely to have ongoing behavioral and social-skills problems, they still need to be closely monitored,” Flores said.
“Health care providers for children and adolescents in kinship care should increase efforts to screen youths and caregivers for high-risk behaviors such as sex and substance use and to educate them about pregnancy prevention. Recruiting more adults to serve as mentors to youths in kinship care might also help prevent these high-risk behaviors.”
The study appears in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center