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Education and kinship caregivers: Creating a new vision
From Families in Society, 1/1/03 by Lawrence-Webb, Claudia


Current issues regarding the education of children with disabilities who are placed with kinship caregivers are highlighted using qualitative data on low-income African American kinship care providers who are 40-70 years old. Examined are the historical and social implications of kinship care, and the challenges facing the formal education of these children. Also explored are suggestions of kinship caregivers for improving the relationship between the school and their grandchildren. Kinship caregivers continue to highly value education as a priority for the children In their care. Despite difficulties In interacting with schools, kinship caregivers identify collaborative relationships they want with education providers.

My grandson is 15 years. He will be 16. 1 have 15 years trying to get him to where he is supposed to be. It is not easy, but it is going all right. That is why we are here to be a part of the solution and not the problem and we, as concerned people, have to look at our situations as a blessing. As for me, I see it as my blessing. I have to. -Ms. H, participant and kinship care grandmother

KINSHIP CARE TODAY REQUIRES COMPETENCE and knowledge in many areas: child development; behavior management; cultural diversity; the philosophy and pracrice of permanency planning; the effects of separation and placement on children and their families; and the needs of children who have experienced physical and sexual abuse, exposure to drugs or AIDS during infancy, and family violence (Everett, 1995).

There has been an abundance of research in recent years on kinship care, especially as it pertains to children who are formally or informally placed with their grandparents (Dubowitz, Feigelman, & Zuravin, 1993; Dubowitz, Zuravin, Starr, Feigelman, & Harrington, 1993; Gleeson, 1995; Leashore, Chipungu, & Everett, 1991; LeProhn, 1994; Scannapieco & Jackson, 1995).

However, for kinship caregivers of children with disabilities, especially elderly kinship caregivers, more studies are needed to help us further understand who they are, their needs as parents, and ways we can contribute to strengthening their families. For our purposes, kinship caregivers are individuals who assist in providing care to children within the family on a formally or informally established basis. These individuals are defined as persons that are related by blood and/or marriage or those individuals perceived and designated as family members by the family regardless of whether they have blood or legal ties to the family unit.

This paper explores some of the challenges faced by kinship caregivers as they interact with the education system. In doing so, the paper describes the ways that African American kinship caregivers of children with disabilities struggle with poverty, physical challenges, and other social and environmental conditions that impinge on their ability to successfully interface with the educational systems that serve their children. Qualitative focus group data are used to explore the question, "How do low-income African American kinship caregivers, who are in most cases elderly women, respond to the educational systems that serve the special needs of their children with disabilities?" Key topics used to guide answering this question were youths with disabilities, kinship care, social support systems, and professional services.

The discussion is divided into four sections. The first section provides an overview of the current issues regarding the education of children with disabilities who are placed with kinship caregivers. The second describes the focus groups that were conducted with a sample of low-income African American kinship care providers aged 40-70 in spring, 1999. These data are used to examine issues raised in section one, concentrating on the challenges faced in the formal education of these children. Verbatim excerpts from these discussions are used in the third section to examine (a) the historical and social implications of kinship care, (b) the changing vision of education in kinship care, and (c) education from the perspective of kinship care providers. Finally, the fourth section explores suggestions by kinship care providers for improving the joint relationship between themselves, the school, and their grandchildren.

Children With Disabilities and Their Elderly Kinship Caregivers

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, approximately 4.3 million children lived with relatives in 1992. While most of these children lived with their mothers in the homes of relatives, some 878,000 lived apart from their parents in their grandparents' homes (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992). The children as a group tend to test low on achievement tests and to have cognitive and language difficulties. A significant number of these children also exhibit behavioral problems (Dubowitz, 1990).

A study of the California foster care system found that about 15% of these children were in fair to poor health; more than 40% had been prenatally exposed to drugs; about 10% exhibited fetal alcohol syndrome; 31% of children in nonrelated foster care and 23% of the children in kinship care had repeated at least one grade; 32% of the children in nonrelated foster care and 26% of the children in kinship care were in special education (Berrick & Barth, 1991).

Dubowitz's (1990) research of 524 children in kinship care in Baltimore, Maryland, also found physical and mental health problems among children in kinship care. Forty one percent (41%) of the children who were living with relatives and enrolled in school were behind at least one grade level, and 28% were receiving special education services. The Baltimore study also found that the vast majority of relatives who cared for the 524 kinship children on which the study focused were close relatives; about half were grandmothers. Similarly, a New York City study of 95 kinship caregivers found that 60% were grandmothers and 30% were aunts (Thornton, 1991). Finally, in the Baltimore study, less than half of the kinship parents had finished high school, while 19% had attended some college (Dubowitz, 1990).

Previous studies (Hampson & Tavormina, 1980; Peterson & Pierce, 1974; U.S. Children's Bureau, 1980) provide us with profiles of foster parents. Foster parents tend to be in their mid-to-late 40s, married, have a high school education or less, and have low to lower-middle income (Everett, 1995).

This paper focuses on the education of these youths. The traditional approaches of dealing with the service and systems' problems in education have not succeeded in producing long-term comprehensive changes. The premise of this paper is that the best method of helping low-income disabled children is to embrace the participation of their kinship caregivers and invest children and their kinship caregivers with concrete skills to fight their own battles effectively. Methods

Focus Groups and Participants

Two focus groups were conducted for kinship caregivers of children with disabilities (formal and informal) in the spring of 1999. Focus group participation was not limited to kinship caregivers of children with disabilities who are currently committed to BCDSS (Baltimore City Department of Social Services). The invitation to participate was publicized at gathering arenas of providers who have children placed with BCDSS, also gatherings of individuals who do not have a child placed with them, but have had or plan to be caring for a disabled kin-child; and publicized to reach individuals who are caring for disabled kin-children without court orders or with Juvenile Court Custody and Guardianship. Participants were invited to attend one or both focus groups. Of the 24 kinship caregivers signed up to participate, 7 attended the first focus group session and 12 attended the second. Total participation was 19 (79%) and they were all African American females aged 40-70. Transportation and child care stipends were provided, and participants received a gift worth $10. Lunch and dinner were served at both events. The focus groups were conducted by an experienced social worker.

These groups were used to generate major themes, concepts, stories, and areas of concern. Discussions focused on family history, drug abuse, living situations, service delivery, professional services, beliefs about the system and the future, and other important areas. The groups also explored economic issues, single parenthood, extended kin network, social support systems and other coping mechanisms as they relate to youths with disabilities, kinship care, and the elderly caregiver.

Data Management and Analysis

The groups were audiotaped and the 3-4 hours of discussions were transcribed. The data from these groups were analyzed according to topics and key words used to guide the discussions. Reexamination of the data identified the evolution of additional themes such as the value of children, the medication and evaluation of children; generational parenting differences, religiosity/spirituality and the role of the educational system in meeting the needs of children in kinship care arrangements. Discussion

Historical and Soda Implications of Kinship Care

The issue of kinship care in the African American community has special significance culturally and historically with respect to the care of children. It is believed that the strengths of Black families have played a vital role in the success of these placements (Heywood, 1999; Pinson-Milburn, Fabian, Schlossberg, & Pyle, 1996; Woodworth, 1996). However, as we continue to acknowledge these strengths, it important that we attend to the challenges we will face in the future.

Boyd-Franklin (1989) believes that we must pay more attention to characteristics of the African American experience that influence marriage and family life, including a history that includes an African legacy, slavery, racism, and discrimination. Hence, we begin with a discussion about these grandparents and how some of these characteristics continue to influence their lives. Within African American family traditions, the family system has always been viewed as having a responsibility to ensure that its youngest and elderly were properly taken care of (Hill, 1971; Sudarkasa, 1996). Children continue to be viewed as "not having asked to come here," and therefore should not bear the criticism the parents receive for not providing for their care. Grandmothers, paternal and maternal, are often left with the responsibility of meeting the needs of these children. Nobody is clearer about this situation than the grandparents themselves as evidenced by Ms. C's comments and the consensus of her peers.

We as grandparents have that responsibility to try to reconstruct a life for our grandchildren. We only want the best for our children, which is not always easy. [Ms. MI is a great-grandmother. She got tired of different people keeping her grandchildren because she is a good foundation for them and they for her. She really does not need that but God has given her the strength that she will be there for those children.

Despite their limitations of income and other factors, care of these children outweigh the limitations placed on these caregivers. Three of the grandparents discussed their situation with respect to finances:

I have little income. The application said for whom are you applying. His name went on the application.

I saved my money for when I retired so I could kick my feet up. I don't have none of that money that I had. All of it had togo to these four children because I was getting $475 for four children. And then my check that I get, my social security and my pension. My kids live off of my social security and my pension. They cannot give them the food stamps that they need to feed them .... I pay $125 for a pair of tennies and go to specialty shops for clothing where I pay $65 for a pair of pants.

My grandchildren get medical assistance, but I have to pay for my medicines .... I made $1.10 over what I was supposed to get so I didn't qualify for supplemental medical assistance.

Other factors impacting grandparents are such things as serious health problems that effectaffect their ability to provide for their grandchildren (Fuller-Thomson, Minkler, & Driver, 1997; Minkler & Roe, 1993; Woodworth, 1996). In light of their adamant refusal to take on the rearing of their grandchildren, many grandparents feel pressured into taking on the responsibility of others including child welfare agencies. One grandparent described her situation:

I had just stopped working because I had a heart attack. They asked me if I could take five of my grandchildren. I said no way. They said well how about you taking the two girls, 7 and 9. I already had two at my house. I said I can't do that, 1 just got out of the hospital. I am sad. I had four heart attacks in one year ... I cannot afford any more children, Igot two. That night ... they brought the children to my door and called me out of my house.... The worker said are you going to take these children. I told you no. She opened the car door and let the two little children out. I says I can't take these children. The two children looked at me and said, "Grandma, you don't want us." I said come on. I could not say no. I could not tell these children that I didn't want them.

As in this example, some of the grandparents have serious health problems that are not always taken into consideration in the placement of children in kinship care. Again, some of these factors are not considered by the school system as possible barriers that could interfere with the successful completion of educational plans established between the student, parent and school system. These social and environmental conditions have significance in the ability of these caregivers to successfully interface with the school system. These conditions can place limitations on the abilities of grandparents to meet the demands and requests suggested by school personnel for addressing the needs of their grandchildren.

According to Billingley and Giovannoni's (1972) seminal publication of Children of the Storm, there have always been cultural norms within the African American community for the care and education of children. Before the modern child welfare system, there existed a dual and segregated system of child welfare for children of color (Hill & Giovannoni, 1972; Lawrence-Webb, 1995). In the child welfare system within the African American community, children were formally and informally placed with relatives when their parents were unable or unwilling to provide for their care. In addition, many children were informally placed with grandparents and other relatives and "kin" by their parents as they sought employment in other parts of the United States. In those instances, lack of adequate employment after the move prevented parents from assuming responsibility for their children) until they were resettled with some level of stability in their new environments.

In some instances, children born out of wedlock, whose mothers were too ashamed or unable to provide for them, were left for upbringing in the care of elderly women not related by blood or marriage. These elderly women were well-known and respected within the community as a resource for children in these situations (Hill, 1971; Scannapieco & Jackson, 1995; Sudarkasa, 1981). The children were taken with little asked in return of the mothers or fathers, and provided for until the child reached adulthood. There were also scenarios where one or both parents were involved with the children through visitation and provided monthly financial support to the caregivers to help take care of the child. This complex informal and formal system of child care was the foundation of child care in the African American community and this situation is sensitive to the cultural beliefs and traditions of providing for children. The caregiver was expected to meet the child's basic needs including his or her education (Hill, 1972).

Legal arrangements formalizing a guardian role by the caregiver were not viewed in the best interest of the children or that of their family because it was strongly believed that one should not legally alter the relationship between children and their birth parents (Hill, 1971; Lawrence-Webb, 1995; Scannapieco & Jackson, 1996; Sudarkasa, 1996). It was culturally understood that the parents and/or family had a claim to the child until they reached adulthood and could choose to exercise that claim at any point during the child's upbringing. This perception of respecting the rights of parents and the sanctity of their relationship to their children is still held today in relationship to kinship caregivers (McClean & Thomas, 1996; Thornton, 1991). In this group, their sentiment regarding the issue was summarized by one of the members, who stated that although she has had her children for 5 years, and is being told that she could lose the children if she does not adopt them:

I don't want to adopt them because they are family and really know who their real mother is ... and they are doing good in my home ... having a child and dumping that child out of that home and try to force ... to adopt children when we [don't] want to adopt the child. When the children get wind of this they are going to regress and everything .... Their mother is my niece. Adoption means permanency .... You want the niece to eventually get herself together.

The cardinal principle here is that the child will always belong to the parents and their family-therefore why would one need to legalize what already belongs to you? In one instance, a grandparent, Barbara informs the group that "the system is trying to get me to sign papers that I am going to adopt these two children. I will adopt these two children if there is no other course." The overall response of the group is, "Family don't adopt. How do you adopt your own family? If that is my nephew, how can I adopt him? We are already blood."

Currently and in the past, grandparents initially take the children in the family because they believe that, at some point, the parents will come for the children. However, more frequently, parents are not able to exercise their claim to the child because they are unable to break away from the grip of substance abuse and the effects of its use on their ability to be a resource for their children. More and more, grandparents are realizing that they are left with the responsibility of taking care of children, some of whom have been damaged and ravaged by the neglectful and sometimes abusive conditions in which they lived with their parents) (Minkler, Driver, Roe, & Bedian, 1993; Minkler & Roe, 1994; Pinson-Millburn, 1996; Ingram, 1996; Woodworth, 1996; Wilhemus, 1998).

In addition, some experience biological and mental problems as a direct result of their parent(s)' substance abusing behaviors (Dubowitz et al., 1993). This is further compounded by those parents who have contracted AIDS and are having to make long-term plans for the care of their children (Woodworth, 1996). In these instances, to hope that parents will one day be able to resume the care of their children is sometimes futile. It is against this backdrop that we encounter some of the problems that grandparents experience in providing for these children. School problems are a major source of concern for many of these grandparents as they grapple with the complexity of the learning problems that some of these children possess. The grandparents also struggle with the response of the school system to meet the needs of these children.

The Changing Vision of Education in Kinship Care

One of the most significant issues that we fail to realize is that grandparents need assistance in fully understanding the learning limitations and behavioral problems exhibited by these children. Their experiences as parents are from a generation ago, when some of the current behaviors, conditions, and issues did not exist. For instance, crack cocaine and its impact was not known because crack cocaine did not exist. AIDS is a relatively new phenomenon that was not present a generation ago. Children and parents experience the impact of AIDS biologically and environmentally (Scannapieco & Jackson, 1996). Yet, we expect them to know what to do in these situations.

Of course grandparents have parenting skills-good fundamental parenting skills that would have worked a generation ago. These skills now must either be modified or supplemented with skills and abilities that can adequately address the concerns raised previously (Berrick, 1997; Woodworth, 1996). These grandparents are ever aware that "when their mothers taught them things, they dealt with it and accepted it because it was their mother.... But when it came to my grandchildren, it was a new world. This is a new kind of time."

According to an America's Children report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (1999) National Health Survey on Disability, there were four major areas in which children experienced difficulty in performing everyday tasks: learning, communication, mobility, and self-care. The most common of these four types of limitations was difficulty with learning. In 1994, 10.6% of children were classified as having a learning limitation (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1999).

Grandparents in the focus groups were quite conscious of the learning disabilities possessed by their grandchildren. As one grandparent stated,

We all have faced facts today about what to expect today. The type of disability that we are talking about covers all aspects of disability. This is a totally different type of disability that we deal with depending on what type of drug the mother was on. That is the mother and father. Years ago, there were other factors.... We must educate ourselves and others about crack and cocaine babies... We need someone in the field to educate about the side effects and what to expect in order for us to become self-sufficient.

Another condition that impacts grandparents' ability to provide for their grandchildren is that the developmental lifespan of most of the grandparents is in direct conflict with their roles as full-time parents. At a time in their lives when their roles as parents and grandparents should be low maintenance and supplemental, they are thrust into a high maintenance role in which they assume all the responsibilities of being a sole parent with fewer resources-physically, mentally, financially, and socially (Heywood, 1999; Pinson-Millburn et al., 1996).

We are also still learning about the impact that substance abuse has had on the learning abilities of children who were affected in utero. Previous research (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 1999) has documented the negative consequences of drugs on the development of fetuses. Researchers have recently discovered that the development of the brain in children occurs in three stages, so that by the time they reach adolescence, children have been hardwired to promote skills and knowledge that have been acquired during these three stages. Little expansion takes place after this period and learning new material and skills become more difficult over time (McDonald, 2000).

Through the Eyes of Kinship Caregivers

The participants expressed a variety of feelings and thoughts ranging from positive statements on behalf of teachers and public school systems to viewing the school system and its personnel as detrimental and hostile to the needs of African American children with special needs. Some of the grandparents felt that some teachers

I do not know how to teach children with a problem. They are creating monsters... we have to get bettereducated teachers who are sensitive to these children and their problems. We also have to educate the parent to let them know that when you recognize the need to make the schools aware, to make the system aware to make everybody aware to not degrade the child. The child has a special need ... they are our future and if you don't work with them now, we don't have a future.

They also believed that the relationship between grandparents and the school should be cooperative. They should feel welcomed in the school and encouraged to work along with the teachers, the principal, and other school personnel. There was a consensus that "kids like this need order and the teacher needs to know that what you do at home has to be carried over in the classroom." There was a lot of discussion regarding consistency between home and the classroom setting. One group member shared,

My mother always sat in my classroom and was never told that she needed an appointment. When I went up to my son's school, they had to go find the principal in order for me to sit in the class ... the thing is consistency. And it is hard to be consistent after they have been in school and they have been told that they are stupid, they are dumb and they get laughed at.

In addition, one grandparent expressed the feeling that she felt ignored when she attempted to share her knowledge of her child with school personnel.

Three of the most critical issues that resulted in passionate and eloquent monologues by several of the group members concerned IEPs (Individual Education Plans) discussed in Admissions, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings; the use of medication to quell the behavior of children, especially Ritalin; and the labeling of children within the educational process. This paper defines ARD meetings as collaborative processes with educators, parents, and students that examine, evaluate, propose, and implement educational plans for students that will contribute to their educational success in the academic setting through a variety of school and community services.

ARD meetings where IEPs are discussed were perceived as intimidating as described by the following parent. "When a parent comes in there are about 10-15 people ... they are intimidated because they don't have the knowledge and they don't know what an IEP is." One of the parents viewed the ARD meetings as not conducive to input from the parents because from her perspective,

At the ARD meeting, they have already set criteria that they are supposed to meet ... just that parent sitting at the table themselves is not enough. It is important for grandparents to know that when you go to an ARD meeting, these are things you have to say. Mrs. so and so has an aide for her children and why can't I have one for my child. Why should your child be denied?

The grandparents realized that nobody tells you what services are available under the ARD process. As a parent, if you are unaware of the resources in the ARD process, then one could miss securing vital educational services for the child. Another grandparent emphasized that even when the parent and the school recognize the problems) that the child is experiencing,

What does it mean? It is a time and paper trail. The school just don't get rid of teachers, social workers, or not even the students just like that. You need documentation and follow-through. So we are constantly watching and monitoring ... we recognize the need in the community for what we need to do for these children.

Grandparents recognize that their grandchildren not only have a variety of physical and learning disabilities which can include Pervasive Deficit Disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), forms of autism, blindness, poor motor skill development, etc., but also that these children "have a core and they are hurt." As one grandparent stated, "I had to go back and discover a new thing of how to love. That is why I say to them, grandmother loves you, I really do, it hurts me just as it hurts you." The most important thing that grandparents must do is to connect with the grandchild, or as they put it, "reach that child." Grandparents also believe that the school system should "reach out" to children and their parents.

Behavior problems exhibited by the children at home and in school were an expansive topic of discussion. Suggestions were given by some of the grandparents as to how to address these conditions. The majority of the grandparents in the focus group had questions about the use of Ritalin as a means of controlling the behavior of children. Several of the grandparents felt that alternative methods for addressing the behavior problems of their grandchildren needed to be explored without forcing children to submit to a maintenance of Ritalin. One parent discussed her resistance to the use of medications for her grandson.

Everyone in his class was on medication and it was not happening to him. The medication was to make their job easier, but if you are not going to teach the child and discipline while they are on medication, then don't use it. The medicine is good if you are going to work with them. If you are not to work with them, don't put them on it. When it wears off, you've got to deal with [the same behavioral problems]."

Other parents discussed the varying side effects of the drug Ritalin that they see in their grandchildren.

Some parents attributed some of the behavior problems experienced at home as being related to the frustration that the child experienced in the school setting by "being placed in classrooms with regular teachers" that expect them to perform as regular students without disabilities. In one instance, a grandparent described her grandson as coming home "frustrated and going through behavior problems because the kids tease him," which ultimately lead to fighting with his peers.

It is not manageable. When he comes home, who else is he going to take the anger out on but the person that is there in the house who is me .... I was so frustrated with him this morning because he did

not want to go to school.

The labeling of children within the educational system was also identified as a major issue. According to the participants, it starts with the diagnosis of a learning disability or physical disability. From there, the labeling is expanded to incorporate a variety of behavior problems. Several of the grandparents saw the school as abdicating its responsibility to these children. As one grandparent succinctly stated,

You have them at home trying to build up their character and teach them things and when they go to school they tear it down and something happens. They label them as bad children and you got to medicate them and it makes their jobs easier and they don't try to help them because of tutoring kids in the class and they will put him in a level five and everybody labels them and kids tease them .... This public school system needs improvement.

Another grandparent said,

They used to call special education students DEC. They used to call them Dumb Educated Students and the children used to call themselves that. That is when they stopped and started calling them special ed. A lot of teachers, when their kids have behavior problems, will push these kids in special ed. "

There was a group consensus that once labels are invoked, a stigma is attached and it is difficult to get the labels removed. Unfortunately, the labels will follow the child throughout their educational career and pigeonholes them into certain academic programs and curriculums until the completion of high school.

Creating a New Educational Space: Recommendations of Kinship Caregivers

Kinship caregivers had a variety of suggestions for improving communication and services between the school system and kinship care providers that have grandchildren placed in special education programs. Their initial suggestion was that the school should listen to the grandparents, because they know these children better than anyone else. When others have thrown up their hands, thrown in the towel and given up, the grandparents are still there attempting to provide love and a stable living environment for these children.

With respect to their discussion on ARDs and IEPs, the caregivers felt that they wanted to understand more about educational testing and evaluations. In addition, they felt that parent-teacher conferences would assist them in meeting educational expectations for the children in their care and allow for reinforcement of what the children learns in the school environment.

The grandparents suggested that educators revisit the concept of "mainstreaming" children with learning disabilities considering its impact on teachers who are not trained in special education in conjunction with the lack of classroom resources. They wanted fewer children in special education classes so the children could benefit more from one-on-one contacts with their teachers. They felt that they could also use ombudspersons for negotiating and navigating school systems to meet the needs of students requiring a variety of services.

Kinship caregivers felt that they needed education concerning substance abuse and exposure of children to drugs during and after pregnancy, the relationship between drugs and educational achievement, and the overall integration between these conditions, ADD/ADHD, and the behaviors of children in classroom settings. Importantly, caregivers felt desperately in need of further education and exploration of alternatives to the use of Ritalin in managing these conditions. They expressed concerns about the overuse of medication to address the behavior problems of children. The caregivers expressed very strong feelings about the labeling of young children and the long-term impact of these labels. They worried about their stigmatizing effects and the potential for the children to grow into what these labels represent.


School personnel and grandparents should be educated on the impact of substance abuse on the development of children in utero and its relationship to learning and physical disabilities. Current data suggest that crack cocaine, other illicit drugs, and alcohol negatively impact children's ability to function in the classroom (Minkler & Roe, 1993). Both parties should be aware of what types of special services are needed to address these concerns.

Educators need to revisit the concept of "mainstreaming" children with learning disabilities and the lack of classroom resources, especially when some teachers are not trained in special education. Smaller classroom sizes are critical to the success of all students, but especially in special education programs that already use more one-on-one interaction between students and teachers. Greater sharing of information is warranted regarding school processes like psychoeducational evaluations, IEP meetings, and parent-teacher conferences to ensure that certain educational expectations and behaviors are being reinforced on a consistent basis in the home and school. Parents could also use the assistance of educational advocates for ensuring that school systems meet the needs of students requiring a multitude of services.

Further exploration of alternatives to the use of Ritalin and the pros and cons of its utilization should be debated within the educational arena. The overuse of medication to address the behavior problems of children should be evaluated, and the programs of expulsion and suspensions should be reviewed regarding such problems. Expulsion and suspension should not be implemented before making adequate arrangements for the child to receive some educational instruction while awaiting return to the regular classroom setting.

For a system whose primary function is education, it seems antithetical that when one is expelled or suspended, too often the child does not receive any educational instruction during the days before the issue has been resolved and they have returned to the classroom. This is a call for restructuring the education system to further enhance its strengths for meeting the needs of kinship care children.

A decrease in the use of labeling children is imperative since labels are stigmatizing and follow the child throughout their educational process. Although some type of identifiers must be used to categorize the needs of children within the educational system, greater caution is warranted in disseminating such information in the educational setting. Grandparents and teachers should receive education on the identifiers in hopes that understanding these identifiers will decrease the negativity toward them.

A good educational program would incorporate outreach services to parents and students on a variety of topics like mentoring, tutoring, and parenting classes about working with school systems to meet the needs of children in regular and special education programs (The Future of Children, 2000). Special consideration should be given to help these caregivers understand the Americans with Disabilities Act as it pertains to the educational needs of children with learning disabilities. Since children take their home problems to school, services should also attempt to assist parents in addressing some of the problematic family situations, like finances and medical assistance, by seeking to connect families with these resources in the community (Karp, 1996). The home environment does have an impact on children's ability to function academically in the classroom, and what happens in the classroom-especially their academics and social relationships at school-affects children's interactions at home (The Future of Children, 2000).

In conclusion, the caregivers in this study have indicated that there is hope and faith in the education of their children. Despite the difficulties associated with raising children in kinship care, the value of education in these arrangements continues to be a high priority and valued by most of the kinship caregivers. Educational services should take advantage of family strengths and values and utilize them to maximize educational opportunities to meet the needs of these children. If kinship caregivers and their children cannot develop a comfortable fit between them and the school system, there will be a struggle on both ends.


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Claudia Lawrence-Webb, DSW, LCSSW-C and Joshua N. Okundaye PhD, LCSW-C, are assistant professors, University of Maryland, Baltimore County with extensive clinical and consultative experience working with child welfare agencies. Gayle Hafner is an attorney and was an Open Society Institute fellow at the Legal Aid Bureau. Claudia Lawrence-Webb can be reached at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250; e-mail:

Manuscript received: November 10, 2000

Revised: June 8, 2001

Accepted: May 18, 2001

Copyright Families in Society Jan-Mar 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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