Evaluation of Family Preservation and Reunification Programs: Final Report - Volume Two. 6.4 Conclusions

09/01/2002

This analysis examined the kinds of informal supports that were available to caretakers in the study, the composition of the caretakers' support networks, the levels of support that were available to the caretakers from their support networks, and the effect of family preservation services on their levels of support. Over all of the states, the great majority of caretakers identified at least one person that they could rely on for support. Indeed, less than four percent of the caretakers said that they had nobody to count on for any type of support. It is important to recognize that this small group of caretakers may be likely to benefit from services aimed at strengthening their informal support systems. However, most of the caretakers in this study cannot be characterized as being socially isolated since, on average, they reported having over nine friends and relatives in their social networks. This is not to suggest that these caretakers could not use additional informal support, they might, but we cannot assess that with the data at hand.

In terms of the composition of the caretakers' support networks, our findings are consistent with those of other research that has examined family formation trends. Caretakers rely primarily on kinship ties and friends rather than marital bonds for all kinds of support. Overall, only 54 percent of the caretakers in this study reported having fathers with whom they

have regular contact and even fewer were residing with partners (32%). It may be partly a result of the scarcity of fathers and partners and the predominance of women (77 percent of the caretakers' friends were female) in their support networks, that caretakers rely more on females than males for support. However, caretakers who have bothers and fathers are generally less likely to receive support from them than from their mothers, sisters, and friends. Also, brothers and fathers tend to provide lower levels of support. This difference between male and female supporters may be related to the traditional gender division of labor that assigns the bulk of household tasks, family care, and emotional work to women.

Partners who reside with caretakers are more likely to provide support and to provide more support than either male or female extended family members. Hence, becoming involved with a partner might increase the amount of support -- particularly instrumental -- that is available to caretakers. However, the marriage prospects for many single mothers may be quite limited unless the socio-economic conditions that inhibit the formation of two-parent families improve substantially.

Lastly, we examined the effects of family preservation services on caretakers' levels of support and found little impact. It must be emphasized, however, that we do not know the extent to which family preservation workers focused on issues of informal social support. It is possible that this was a relatively unimportant component of these services, and that it is unrealistic to expect to see effects of family preservation services in this area.

References

Cherlin, A. J. (1992). Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Furstenberg, F. F. (2001). The Fading Dream: Prospects for Marriage in the Inner City. In E. Anderson and D. S. Massey (Eds.), Problem of the Century: Racial Stratification in the United States (pp. 224-246). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Garfinkel, I. S. and McLanahan, S. S. (1986). Single Mothers and Their Children: A New American Dilemma. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute Press.

Henly, J. (1994). Surviving without welfare: The informal support networks of former general assistance recipients. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.

McLanahan, S., Garfinkel, I., and Mincy, R. B. (2001). Fragile Families, Welfare Reform, and Marriage (Policy Brief No. 10). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

Stack, C. B. (1974). All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in the Black Community. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Wilson, W. J. (1987). The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Endnotes

99. Repeated measures analysis of this subsample yielded no significant differences between the control and experimental groups' change in the levels of support across the three interviews.

100. Each of the summary measures assumes that caretakers had more support available from supporters with whom they had greater contact. Therefore, they only approximate the caretakers' levels of support.

101. In the secondary analysis, Kentucky experimental group caretakers reported having more support available from their partners (averaged across time). There was, however, no change in the average levels of support over time in either group.

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