Informal and Formal Kinship Care. Some data-oriented recommendations for the study of Kinship care


1. Extend the analysis of the Current Population Survey data. This work can be extended in two ways. First, by continuing to generate data pulls for children in kinship care relations from each of the new Annual Demographic Surveys (March CPS). This report ended with the 1994 data, which unfortunately showed apparent empirical changes that we must presume are largely an artifact of changes in data collection methodology. While these newest estimates are presumably improved, continued collection must start to obtain a time series of data for continued comparison.

Second, the Current Population Survey analysis must be performed in a multivariate fashion. The univariate findings reported here are new, important, and informative because they describe a carefully defined kinship care population. But they do not yet provide a sufficient information basis for the development of research or policy. While the survey sampling basis of the CPS will not allow highly detailed analysis, the sample size is sufficient to support controls for region, race/ethnicity, poverty levels, metro/nonmetro, etc, especially when several years data are pooled together. Because the CPS is collected annually, this should be the cheapest and most cost-effective way to follow general population trends in kinship caregiving on an ongoing basis.

2. Support a reclassification from 1990 Census STF 3 data that would allow race/ethnicity to be determined for the detailed relationships of child living arrangements. The full Census databases contain the information required, it just was not produced for public distribution. Similarly, this topic is of sufficient policy importance that the Census Bureau should be encouraged to tabulate more information classified directly for children and their family-household relationships for its reports from the next decennial census in year 2000.

Alternately, analysis of kinship care should seek to take advantage of the STF 4 data files created by the Census Bureau. These files are much larger and less widely distributed than the STF 3 data, but they contain detailed ethnic and racial subcategorizations for the entire record as reported for each areal unit. The productive gain from well-defined census information is potentially huge, as it offers not only very large samples (or full populations), but also provides the capacity for analysis by areal units. Our intention had been to demonstrate this approach in the current project to compare formal and informal kinship, but the extreme concentration of formal kinship care in a few urban places prevented this effort.

3. Analyze formal kinship care for more than four states, and include comparisons of kinship and non-kinship foster care into the analysis. This effort clearly demonstrated that the levels of kinship foster care respond more to local policy and practice issues than to basic social causes. With this understanding, each new state should be seen as a new case study rather than just an extension to a pooled dataset. In the current project we focused on differentiating formal and informal kinship cases. New research should approach questions like, for the states with low formal kinship care participation, where do the children live who would probably be formal kinship cases in another state. Do they tend to be placed in nonrelative foster care? In informal kinship arrangements? Are they more likely to remain with a parent?

The kinship foster care data would also be far more useful if it were able in all cases to identify the reason for initial removal from home and information about the kinship caregiver, including their family relationship to the child. The former information might help us to classify kin care types, and the latter would help us to contrast this population to the informal kinship group.

4. Encourage continued efforts to integration administrative data sources for service contacts with children, such as the linkage which supported the examination of Illinois AFDC and foster care populations in Section IV. Linkages are currently being pursued in several states between child welfare, child protection, public assistance, child support, mental health, public health, vital records, and other administrative databases.

The Illinois AFDC-foster care analysis, as preliminary as it was in design, emphasized the value of this type of effort. The ability to describe flows of children between various statuses and points of contact with social service providers brings the potential to empirically observe processes and to introduce causal-type arguments to a study.

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