Facing connective complexity: a comparative study of the effects of kinship foster care and non-kinship foster care placements on the identity of African American adolescents
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African American youth are increasingly being placed in kinship foster settings; however, little research exists regarding the effects of this placement on well-being outcomes, especially identity outcomes. This exploratory study was designed to examine differences in personal, ethnic, and foster identity between African American adolescents, ages 11 to 14, placed in kinship and non-kinship foster family care as well as to develop an in-depth picture of the relational contexts facing these youth. The study sample consisted of nine adolescents in kinship placements and nine adolescents in non-kinship placements. All participants were in inracial placements. Through face to face interviews, adolescents were administered the Youth Self-Report, the Self-Perception Profile for Children, the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure, the Twenty Statements Test, the Psychological Presence of Birth Mother to Adolescent Scale, and a semi-structured interview schedule which addressed the following: foster care identity, perception of losses, role dilemmas, and ethnic identity/socialization. Due to small sample size, statistical analysis of the quantitative data was limited. Although significant differences could not be tested, analysis of descriptive statistical findings together with thematic analysis of qualitative data suggested that the youth in the kinship homes had a stronger sense of ethnic identity and global selfworth as well as a weaker sense of foster identity in comparison to those in nonkinship placements. Exploration of adolescents’ relational contexts revealed that youth living with relatives had more contact with birth parents and siblings and were more likely to retain connections to neighborhoods, schools, and homes. They were also more likely to face ambiguity regarding the nature of their relationship with their caregiver than those in non-kinship placements. The implications for child welfare policy and practice are given. A greater understanding of the effects of foster care arrangements may assist agencies in developing and using different practice models, depending on the type of placement. The differences found regarding continuity of connections may encourage practitioners to help children in non-kinship placements retain connections to people and places that may contribute positively to their sense of identity. More research is needed with larger samples to explore these differences further.