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School of Public and Population Health Alum Publishes Research Article

Photo of Edwina French

Master of Public Health graduate Edwina French published the research article: “‘Hey, You Wanna Take This Kid Forever?’: The Impact of Substance Use Disorder on Relative-as-Parent Families in Idaho” in the Journal of Aging and Social Change.

French earned both her Bachelor of Science in Health Studies and Master of Public Health in Prevention and Intervention Programming from Boise State University. She is now a research associate for the Center for the Study of Aging where she manages the operations of the Idaho Caregiver Alliance and evaluates the Family Caregiver Navigator pilot program.

SPPH faculty members Dr. Ellen Schafer and Dr. Sarah Toevs and Master of Public Health alum Tara Woodward also worked with French on this new publication and research.

The study explores how a family member’s substance use disorder can impact relatives-as-parents, their children and the whole family. The study shares that there are over 2.6 million children in the US being raised by a kinship caregiver. When parents are unable to care for their children due to their substance use disorder (SUD), relatives, often grandparents, may take over the caregiving role (relatives-as-parents).

The study stems from research French began during her time as a student. When she heard about the research project underway with Toevs and Schafer, French said she wanted to better her qualitative interviewing skills and work with knowledgeable and passionate professors.

“It led me to a graduate assistantship, my current job, publishing research and gaining a true passion for storytelling through research,” French said.

French and the research team interviewed 20 relatives-as-parents. The participants ranged in age from 30 years old to 70 years old and each cared for one to five children.

“The unconditional love these caregivers had for the children in their care was very inspirational,” French said.

While the interviews were a new experience for French, she looked to her team for guidance in building a new skill set. French aimed to make sure each participant felt heard and could share their full experience caring for children they may not have originally planned to parent full-time.

“My favorite thing about qualitative research is that it takes people’s stories and lived experience and finds common themes in order to paint a more comprehensive picture of the population or issue to educate the public and inform policy,” French said.

The qualitative data from the interviews showed that there are many unique barriers relatives-as-parents might face caring for the children of parents with substance use disorder. The research article explains, “public and private organizations must continue to collaborate on efforts to provide a seamless system of services and resources tailored for RAPs as they strive to support the children in their care and maintain their own health and wellbeing.”

As a student, French said she worked on data analysis and manuscript building in her graduate assistantship — leading up to the culmination of this research. Having Toevs and Schafer as mentors throughout the research process was key to the study’s success and French’s success, she said.

“I will forever be grateful for their mentorship and this opportunity,” French said.