The phenomenon of grandparents and other relatives raising children is a tradition rooted in the African American culture. However, a substantial increase in the number of relatives raising children has drawn attention to the child welfare system. Many of the biological parents are incarcerated for drugs or suffering from other social ills. Kinship care is an important component of family preservation and prevents court intervention based on child protection concerns and avoids formal placement of children in the child welfare system (Wilkerson, 1999). The child welfare system, however, is not conducive to this phenomenon. Placing children with grandparents and relatives allows them to live with people they know and trust; reduces the initial trauma of living with unknown persons; supports the transmission of identity, culture, and ethnicity; facilitates connections with brothers and sisters, and strengthens a family’s ability to provide the support they need.

Key Take Away Points

  • Policies should support greater compensation for kin caregivers over nonkin caregivers because of the benefits of kin care as well as the needs of caregivers.
  • Practitioners must operate with a view of family that goes beyond the nuclear definition. They must consider the strengths of kinship arrangements and how such strengths are embedded in certain cultural practices (Jackson, 1999; Murphy, Hunter, & Johnson, 2008).
  • Child welfare workers handling case management and making referrals need to be well-versed in the ever-changing policies relating to kinship care.

Author Biography

Patricia Wilkerson is an Assistant Professor at Jackson State University, Jackson, MS. She earned her BA in Sociology with a minor in Gerontology and MSW at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and her PhD in Social Work from Jackson State University in 2004. Her research, scholarship, teaching and related interests include gerontology, with particular emphasis on elderly African Americans, grandparents in kinship care, group treatment, diversity and oppression, and social welfare policy. She is a Licensed Certified Social Worker who has worked in the field extensively. Dr. Wilkerson is affiliated with several professional organizations.

Gloria J. Davis, PhD is employed as an Assistant Professor/Field Coordinator with the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB). She received her BA degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and MSW from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dr. Davis is a Licensed Certified Social Worker in the State of Arkansas. She received her PhD in Human Services with a specialization in social work and community services from Capella University of St. Paul, Minnesota. Her areas of interest are burnout, mental health, child welfare, and geriatrics.

Responses to this Article:

Lori Lewis-Conerly, Commentary on "Grandparents in Kinship Care: Help or Hindrance to Family Preservation" (November 2011)