The evaluation, led by Dr. Sacha Klein from Michigan State University’s School of Social Work (MSU SSW), will increase knowledge in the field about effective models for promoting shared parenting of foster children by birth parents and child caregivers and for providing comprehensive support services for kinship caregivers to preserve and nurture parent-child and other important relationships, create normalcy for placed children, and actively support family reunification and permanency. The evaluation will document and assess the implementation processes and measure outcomes and service costs for the proposed KINDER-CARES program, as well as key implementation lessons learned, project outcomes, costs, and results of dissemination activities. It will produce valuable information that will aid in model refinement and replication (i.e. costs, barriers to implementation, and successful strategies for overcoming these barriers). It will also contribute two much needed measurement tools to the child welfare field:
- a survey that measures normalcy for foster children, and
- a survey measuring the shared parenting experiences of birth parents and caregivers.
The evaluation will engage and empower program participants (i.e. birth parents, kinship caregivers, resource parents), as well as former foster youth and public and private agency staff, through its participatory action research approach (PAR). A central tenet of PAR is that research and evaluation should involve those most affected by the topic being studied and support their knowledge and leadership skill acquisition. Toward this end, kinship caregivers, resource parents and youth will serve on the KINDER-CARES Advisory Committee and this Committee will play an active role in nearly every phase of the evaluation process (i.e. refining the logic model, developing data collection instruments, and analysis via interpreting and contextualizing both quantitative and qualitative evaluation findings). Further, the evaluation team leaders will leverage their existing relationship with MSU’s Fostering Academics Mentoring Excellence – FAME program (also housed in the MSU SSW) to create an opportunity for current and recent foster youth to become members of the KINDER-CARES evaluation team. FAME is a resource center for foster and kinhip care system alumni enrolled at MSU that aims to help them have a successful collegiate experience. Dr. Klein will train interested FAME students in data collection, data analysis, and research communication and she will supervise their application of these skills to the KINDER-CARES evaluation. Participating FAME students will have the opportunity to apply for a $2000 research stipend offered through the MSU Provost’s Undergraduate Research Initiative or receive independent study course credit for this work. In this way, the evaluation will benefit from the lived experience and insights of Michigan foster youth while also contributing to their leadership and human capital skills development.