Biological Parents’ Involvement in Informal Kinship Care Examined

BY: Examining Maternal and Paternal Involvement as Promotive Factors of Competence in African American Children in Informal Kinship Care, was the topic of a lecture presented at UKZN by a social work academic from the University of North Carolina in the United States, Dr Tyreasa Washington.

Addressing social work staff and students, Washington said: ‘Grandparents or other relatives are raising over 2.7 million children in the United States and research suggests that the birth parents of these children maintain varying levels of involvement with them and their relative caregivers. However, the impact of birth parental involvement on children’s developmental outcomes remains largely unexplored.’

She discussed the role of maternal and paternal involvement – each birth parent’s contact with the caregiver, contact with the child, friendliness to the caregiver, and quality of relationship with the child – on competence levels of African American children in informal kinship care. ‘Exploring these relationships is pivotal, especially given the various psychosocial benefits associated with social and academic competence,’ said Washington.

She suggested that paternal involvement in informal kinship care was a significant predictor of competence among African American children, adding: ‘When fathers have more contact with children and caregivers and when the fathers’ relationships with children and caregivers are more positive, then on average children’s competence levels are higher.’

Washington noted that the quality of mothers’ relationship with children was also associated with the children’s increased competence levels.

‘Some kinship caregivers hesitate to involve birth parents with the raising of children due to past negative experiences, such as family conflict or birth parents not showing up for visitation, which subsequently disappoints children,’ explained Washington.

Informal kinship care arrangements normally had no legal restrictions preventing parental involvement. ‘Even when kinship caregivers have private guardianship of the child, parents retain the rights to their children and the right to have contact with their children in most cases,’ says Washington.

Given the inability of most caregivers to restrict all interactions between parents and children, Washington suggests the importance of paternal involvement and the quality of the mother-child relationship on children’s competence. ‘It is clear that social work practitioners should work with informal kinship care families to help facilitate positive interactions among biological parents, caregivers, and children to foster children’s competence,’ she said.

Words and photograph: Melissa Mungroo