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Evolutionary Theory and Kinship Foster Care: An Initial Test of Two Hypotheses


David J. Herring


University of New Mexico School of Law

Jeffrey J. Shook


University of Pittsburgh - School of Social Work

Sara Goodkind


University of Pittsburgh - School of Social Work

Kevin H. Kim


University of Pittsburgh - School of Education

September 18, 2009

Capital Law Review, Vol. 38, p. 291, 2009
U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-25

Abstract:     
Public child welfare systems increasingly rely on kin to serve as foster parents. This study tests two hypotheses concerning kinship foster care that have been formulated based on evolutionary theory and behavioral biology research. The first hypothesis is that on average foster children are likely to benefit from higher levels of parental investment and realize better outcomes if placed with kin rather than non-kin foster parents. The second hypothesis is that on average children in kinship foster care placements are likely to benefit from higher levels of parental investment and realize better outcomes if placed with some types of kin than others. The study uses a large administrative data set from an urban county human services system to compare children who had ever lived in kinship foster care with children who had lived only in non-kin foster care on four primary outcome measures. The study’s findings fail to support fully the first hypothesis. While a smaller percentage of children who had ever been placed in kinship foster care received mental health services following their initial kinship placement, a larger percentage of kinship care children received drug and alcohol treatment services following their initial kinship placement. The differences between the two groups concerning the outcomes of juvenile detention and county jail are not statistically significant. The study also uses a small data set from the primary kinship care agency in the project county to compare outcome measures among placements with different types of kin. The study’s findings fail to support the second hypothesis. The comparison of placements with different types of kin reveals no significant differences in the percentage of children who had experienced mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment services, juvenile detention, or county jail following their primary kinship placement. In addition, the study compares the number of placements for children placed in kinship care within the first three months with the number of placements for children placed only in non-kin foster care or in kinship care after three months, finding that kinship placements were less stable than non-kin placements. This finding is inconsistent with prior comparative research on kinship placements. The study’s results provide guidance for further research in this area.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: children, child welfare, domestic relations, foster care, juveniles, kinship, kinship care, law and society, social welfare

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Date posted: September 21, 2009 ; Last revised: February 27, 2014

Suggested Citation

Herring, David J. and Shook, Jeffrey J. and Goodkind, Sara and Kim, Kevin H., Evolutionary Theory and Kinship Foster Care: An Initial Test of Two Hypotheses (September 18, 2009). Capital Law Review, Vol. 38, p. 291, 2009; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-25. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1475305

Contact Information

David J. Herring (Contact Author)
University of New Mexico School of Law ( email )
1117 Stanford, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87131
United States

Jeffrey J. Shook
University of Pittsburgh - School of Social Work ( email )
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
Sara Goodkind
University of Pittsburgh - School of Social Work ( email )
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
Kevin H. Kim
University of Pittsburgh - School of Education ( email )
United States
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