The effectiveness of support groups in increasing social support for kinship caregivers
Kinship caregivers face a variety of stressors including strains on family resources, legal challenges, conflicts with their own child, and loss of personal time. This paper focuses on the particular stress of reduced social support that grandparents and other relatives often experience. Frequently, kinship caregivers report feeling isolated from friends and family, and feeling unsupported at a time when they are likely to need greater social support. An intervention purported to increase the feeling of social support is the kinship support group. Though widely acclaimed as a valuable intervention, there has been limited research on the support group's actual effectiveness in increasing social support. The current study used the Dunst Family Support Scale (Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 1994) to measure how social support changed for kinship caregivers who participated in support groups versus kinship caregivers who did not attend the support groups. Findings indicated that caregivers who attended support groups experienced a significantly greater increase in social support than those caregivers who did not attend the support groups. An additional finding was that kinship caregivers attending the support groups were more likely to increase formal social supports from sources such as parent groups, social groups/clubs, church members, family physician, early childhood programs, school or day care, professional helpers and agencies compared to an increase in informal support such as spouse's parents, relatives, spouse's relatives, spouse, friends, spouse’ friends, and children. Conclusions include the recommendation for continued efforts to find or create the best measure of kinship support group effectiveness as well as continuing efforts to understand informal kinship caregivers about whom much less is known than formal caregivers. A practice recommendation is to continue and even increase the use of kinship support groups because of this beginning evidence of their effectiveness as well as the economy and relative ease in conducting them.
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