African American Families and Kinship Care Lab

School of Health and Human Sciences

The African American Families and Kinship Care Lab is currently conducting two federally funded research projects. Dr. Tyreasa Washington is the Principal Investigator for both of these National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) funded studies.

Family’s Impact on the Development of African American Children in Kinship Care

Kinship care refers to caregiving of children by relatives, godparents, or others who have strong bonds with the children when biological parents are unable or unwilling to provide care. Over 2.7 million children are currently in kinship care. Twenty percent of African American children will reside in kinship care during their lives; and they are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations. Often the kinship arrangement is in response to conditions of risk, including child maltreatment, socioeconomic hardship, parental substance abuse, incarceration, and mental illness. The conditions faced prior to and while living in kinship care place children at risk of social and behavioral problems and academic difficulties. Kinship care has the potential to ameliorate these risks, but despite the trend toward kinship care as a preferred option for out-of-home placement, there is insufficient knowledge about the influence of these families’ attributes on children’s social and academic competence, and their behavioral problems. Studies suggest that many children in kinship care have issues in all three areas. Over the long term, many children who experience kinship care incur a host of negative outcomes related to social skill deficits, academic underachievement, and behavioral issues including mental health problems, substance use, and contact with the criminal justice system. These negative outcomes point to the urgent need for research focused on kinship families’ impact on children to identify targets for intervention and prevention services. The goal of this two-phase mixed methods study is to better understand the impact of kinship care families on children’s social, academic, and behavior outcomes (ages 5-12). The first aim will use quantitative methods to identify specific family-level factors that mitigate risk to children’s social and academic competence and behavioral problems. The second aim will use qualitative methods to explore and interpret the results obtained in phase I.

Reducing Alzheimer’s Risk among African American Kinship Caregivers

Kinship care families (e.g., grandparents raising grandchildren; aunt/uncles raising related child) are rapidly increasing. Approximately 2.5 million grandparents are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, and African Americans (AA) are more likely to be kinship caregivers than persons from other groups, making them one of the nation’s most vulnerable populations. Kinship caregivers face unique challenges, such as parenting for uncertain periods of time, often with scarce financial resources, while balancing potential conflicts with the child’s biological parents, placing them at significant risk for high stress levels. Given recent findings of links between chronic stress and Alzheimer’s disease (AD), there is a need for research to identify possible stressors and mitigate risks for outcomes such as AD among kinship caregivers. Over the long term, caregivers incur a host of negative stress-related outcomes, including poor physical and mental health. Additionally, since AAs are two to three times more likely to develop AD than their Caucasian counterparts and are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease, a risk factor for AD, there is an urgent need for research to identify modifiable risk factors for both stress and cardiovascular disease, to potentially mitigate the onset of AD in kinship caregivers. The aim of this two-phase mixed methods study is to identify: a) risk factors for AD in a sample of AA kinship caregivers (e.g., stress and cardiovascular disease), b) positive lifestyle behaviors that AA kinship caregivers rely on to reduce their stress and promote physical health, and c) negative coping strategies that might amplify poor physical and mental health outcomes.