Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Final Report - Volume Two. 6.1 Composition of Caretakers' Support Networks

09/01/2002

A concern raised by early investigations into the informal support systems of maltreating families was the extent to which they are isolated from relatives and friends. Families may be socially isolated if they don't have relatives and friends, or don't have much contact with them. Furthermore, families may have relatives and friends with whom they have regular contact but not rely on them for support. Hence, in order to assess the extensiveness of caretakers' informal supports, we first asked them whether they had living parents, siblings, partners, and friends, then determined how often they had contact with each of them, and finally asked if each could be relied on for support.

Table 6-1 summarizes the proportion of caretakers in each states' control and experimental groups who had partners, siblings, parents, and friends from whom they might receive emotional, instrumental, and informational support. The percentages of caretakers reporting that they had contact with particular relatives and friends at least once a year are

Table 6-1
Support Available at Initial Interview by Relationship of Supporter
New Jersey
Relationship Caretakers with relative/friend Support Available
Emotional Instrumental Informational Any type of support
  C
N=131
N(%)
E
N=198
N(%)
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
Partner 56
(43)
69
(35)
79 73 100 97 88 74 100 97
Sisters 103
(79)
162
(82)
59 60 38 41 58 61 63 65
Brothers 88
(67)
146
(74)
43 47 33 35 42 45 48 49
Mother 93
(71)
116
(59)
66 54 44 45 52 48 68 62
Father 61
(47)
89
(45)
49 40 34 42 44 39 51 53
Friends 96
(73)
161
(81)
95 95 69 70 92 94 96 98
Overall 131
(100)
197
(99)
92 93 85 87 92 93 93 95
C = Control E = Experimental
Kentucky
Relationship Caretakers with relative/friend Support Available
Emotional Instrumental Informational Any type of support
  C
N=155
N(%)
E
N=156
N(%)
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
Partner 56
(36)
52
(33)
80 92 100 94 75 92 100 98
Sisters 117
(76)
100
(64)
73 58 49 42 73 51 77 63
Brothers 112
(72)
110
(71)
50 47 36 39 45 45 56 51
Mother 132
(85)
124
(80)
61 58 52 49 61 50 68 67
Father 92
(59)
97
(62)
40 42 43 42 40 38 48 49
Friends 144
(93)
142
(91)
99 97 84 73 97 93 99 98
Overall 155
(100)
155
(99)
98 97 97 87 96 96 99 98
C = Control E = Experimental
Tennessee

Relationship

Caretakers with relative/friend Support Available
Emotional Instrumental Informational Any type of support
  C
N=37
N(%)
E
N=80
N(%)
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
Partner 7
(19)
29
(36)
86 90 100 90 71 86 100 93
Sisters 28
(76)
58
(73)
71 81 71 78 64 74 71 84
Brothers 30
(81)
57
(71)
60 61 67 58 60 60 70 65
Mother 25
(68)
58
(73)
72 62 76 67 64 60 88 79
Father 23
(62)
39
(49)
35 54 39 49 35 54 39 59
Friends 33
(89)
70
(88)
94 96 79 94 91 94 94 97
Overall 37
(100)
79
(99)
95 100 92 98 89 96 95 100
C = Control E = Experimental
Pennsylvania
Relationship Caretakers with relative/friend Support Available
Emotional Instrumental Informational Any type of support
  C
N=107
N%
E
N=156
N%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
C
%
E
%
Partner 25
(23)
34
(22)
88 68 96 94 76 71 100 97
Sisters 79
(74)
117
(75)
71 71 62 60 66 64 75 73
Brothers 82
(77)
118
(76)
58 49 49 45 57 48 63 58
Mother 87
(81)
120
(77)
68 63 60 65 63 63 74 75
Father 66
(62)
87
(56)
42 42 39 40 42 44 53 54
Friends 84
(79)
127
(81)
100 97 88 95 95 98 100 98
Overall 107
(100)
156
(100)
94 97 94 91 93 95 97 97
C = Control E = Experimental

reported under the column heading "Caretakers with relative/friend." The remaining columns report the proportions of caretakers who had minimal contact (at least once a year) with specific relatives and friends and could rely on them for support.

At least 99 percent of all caretakers in every state reported having minimal contact with at least one relative or friend, and a large majority believed that they could count on at least one person for some type of support. In Kentucky and Pennsylvania, only one to three percent of caretakers in either the control or experimental groups felt that they had no one to count on for any kind of support. The proportion of caretakers with no support from anyone was slightly larger in New Jersey's control (7%) and experimental (5%) groups, and in Tennessee's control group (5%).

Although their numbers are small (over all states, only 36 caretakers reported that no support was available to them), caretakers who report that they have no support may be of particular interest since they could be easily identified and targeted for services linking them to informal and community supports. In addition, caretakers without any informal support may benefit the most from efforts to establish linkages to support. Importantly, although they did not rely on them for support, this group of caretakers reported having, on average, nine relatives and friends. In addition, 33 percent of these caretakers were employed. The presence of relatives, friends, and coworkers in the caretakers' social networks may improve the prospects of successfully increasing the levels of informal support that are available to these families. (99)

Caretakers across all states had, on average, 9.4 (s.d. 2.5) friends and relatives on whom they might call for various kinds of assistance. Within the set of family members and friends that they were asked about, caretakers most often cited their friends as people they can go to for help. Overall, about three-quarters of the caretakers reported having mothers and siblings and had contact with them at least once a year. Across all support areas, caretakers perceived mothers and sisters as support providers more often than brothers. Still, half or more of the caretakers with brothers said that they could turn to them for support. Fewer caretakers (less than 63 percent across all states) reported having a father. Furthermore, fathers were less likely to be relied on for support than were other relatives or friends.

Even fewer caretakers reported living with a partner. For instance, more New Jersey caretakers reported co-residing partners than caretakers in any other state, and only 39 percent of them resided with a partner. But relative to fathers and brothers, as well as sisters and mothers, for the minority of caretakers who live with them, partners play a much larger support role, especially in the provision of instrumental support. Friends, however, play a more important role than partners for emotional and informational support.

Only 54 percent of the caretakers of all races in this study reported having fathers with whom they have regular contact and even fewer were residing with partners -- 32 percent of the caretakers of all races reported partners, but 46 percent of white caretakers, 45 percent of Hispanics, and only 22 percent of African Americans reported living with partners. These findings are consistent with what is known about recent changes in family formation among low income populations, especially African-Americans. In a 30-year longitudinal study following a cohort of teen parents and their children, Furstenberg (2001) observed a generational decline in the propensity to marry. In the 1960s the great majority of adolescent mothers married - usually the child's father. More than half of the older generation married by their early twenties, and by their mid-forties, three-fourths had wed. However, observing the next generation of teen mothers, Furstenberg noted that only 14 percent of the younger generation had married by their early twenties, and only 4 percent of those who were not mothers had wed.

Other observers of marriage and childbearing trends have also noted the steady increase in the formation of single-parent (usually female-headed) households, especially among low-income African-American women, over the last several decades (Garfinkel and McLanahan, 1986; Cherlin, 1992). However, the reason for this shift in household structure is not clearly understood. Wilson (1987) has argued that the trend has coincided with other structural shifts such as the decline in the proportion of African-American men who have access to steady work and the simultaneous rise in the incarceration and mortality rates of those men. Others have suggested that cultural changes in attitudes toward the institution of marriage have contributed to the formation of the single-parent family for all Americans and that this societal-wide change has been exacerbated by economic restructuring that hit African-American communities particularly hard (Cherlin, 1992).

Whether the decline in marriage is attributable to structural shifts in the economy, or cultural shifts in attitudes toward marriage, Stack's (1974) research on family support systems in impoverished communities found that African-Americans rely more on extended family members for support of all kinds rather than depending on marriage as the primary source of support (Cherlin, 1992). Certainly, with regard to the composition of their support networks, families in this study fit this characterization.

View full report

Preview
Download

"report2.pdf" (pdf, 978.24Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®