Kinship care in African American families

Posted on Monday, November 20th, 2017 by Grace Hutko under .

Christian Nsonwu is a senior, double majoring in political science and social work. He is currently examining kinship care among African American families under the direction of Dr. Tyreasa Washington, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work.

Describe your project.

“I’m working with Dr. Washington, looking at kinship care in African American families. Kinship care is when children are being raised by someone who is not their biological parent. In many instances, it’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sometimes even neighbors that have been close with the family.

“Our study is focusing on informal kinship care, before legal adoption has taken place. In many cases, they have been taking care of the child since they were very small, and they may be well into their adolescence, but there was never any formal adoption.

“We’ve been interviewing families around Guilford County. This is a pilot study, which includes about 20 individual interviews. We’re currently analyzing the data. We’re hoping our results will lead to funding for a larger research project.”

What is the impact or significance of your project?

“I conducted around 4 to 5 of the interviews, and at almost every single interview the parents, grandparents, or the person in charge of kinship care, talked about how tough it was to take on that role, especially when they’re later on in life. They were very appreciative that there were research studies out there to try and shed new light and data on the situation.

“I think that part of it is kinship care in African American families is sometimes viewed in a negative light, sometimes in a positive light, so we’re just trying to open that up to see the full picture.

“Ultimately, we’re looking for policy change. The way in which social care and social benefits are distributed, especially within North Carolina —  it can be tough for anyone trying to work while taking care of a family. And kinship care families have many other obstacles as well. We want to be part of the solution.”

What were some difficulties you ran into doing your project?

“One would be scheduling, because as an upperclassman at UNCG it can be tough to schedule, not only for yourself, but also for a lot of the families that we’re working with. Many of them work full time jobs. Not only that, but they have to take care of kids, sometimes several kids. Trying to get everyone’s schedules matched up so that you can conduct a 2 hour interview is pretty challenging. It required a lot of weekends and evening interviews.”

Has your project changed over time?

“It hasn’t changed a whole lot, but one of the components that I’ve been working on with Dr. Washington for this semester has been looking at kinship care in Ghana and other West African countries, and seeing where we can draw some parallels or some contrasting thoughts at the end.”

How do you think participating in undergraduate research has benefited you as an individual?

“On a personal level, I wanted to do the research study because I wanted to learn more about the process. Especially moving into grad school and potentially later on, research seems like a valuable skill.

“I think not only learning the skill of how to conduct research and analyze research — which I knew somewhat after taking a research methods class — but actually doing research is a lot more difficult and labor intensive than I would have ever thought.

“Being able to learn in a very constructive environment has been great. I think it really helps to keep everything structured, which is another lesson that you learn.

“It’s been an incredible experience. I’ve learned a lot. I would definitely recommend that anyone in their undergraduate try and work on a research project here.”

How did you become interested in your project?

“I was taking Dr. Washington’s research methods course last semester. I had a meeting with her to talk about what I wanted to do and side projects, and she invited me to join her research project.”

Was there an individual who you found particularly inspiring?

“Most of my family have taught either at UNCG or other universities. Both of my grandparents taught, my mother, my aunt, so they’re all heavy into research within health and human sciences. Not only were they an inspiration, but they were also a support system to help me along the path of trying to figure out what’s going on. I am also inspired by the wonderful faculty within the Social Work department, like Dr. Washington”

Are you using unique or interesting methods, equipment, or tools?

“There are around eight different measures that we’re using to assess the interviewee. Each has a separate form, each has a separate template for how to conduct the interview. Some have to do with stresses of a parent, stresses of a child, the socialization aspect of child development, etc.”

What was the most surprising thing about this experience?

“Going into it, there are a lot of assumptions that can be made about how tough kinship care can be, but just sitting down and analyzing it and having a long conversation with somebody, looking at the situation, you really understand how stressful and tough it can be.

“But in every single instance, the person involved in kinship care is more than willing to do it because of the child. In many cases it’s incredibly heartwarming to see people taking care of children who might not even be blood-related to them, but they have compassion for the child and want a good life for them.”

Interview by S. Grace Hutko

The URSCO blog helps UNCG’s undergraduate scholars share their work and impact with the world. Interested in sharing your work? Contact URSCO Director Lee Phillips at or Office of Research and Engagement Media and Communication Manager Sangeetha Shivaji at

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