Anne Strozier wanted to be anything but a social worker. All her life she wanted to help people, but she refused to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Several years and a couple of degrees later, she succumbed and earned her masters in social work. She is now a professor at USF’s School of Social Work.
The day Strozier started teaching her classes, she felt right at home. “I just had a little acting out to do at first,” she said.
When Strozier received tenure in 1998, she wanted to use that opportunity to pursue something really in depth.
“I was looking for, at that point, to find a group that really needed representation and advocacy and concern and care – locally and nationally – and also was an area that needed research and training,” she said.
Strozier, along with fellow professor Aaron Smith, is the co-founder of The Florida Kinship Center at the USF School of Social Work. Kinship care is when relatives take care of other family members’ children.
Commonly, it is the grandparents taking care of their grandchild, but kinship care extends to all family members who are not the child’s parents.
Founded in 1998, the Kinship Center at USF is the only statewide center. It offers research and development programs for a growing trend.
“It has grown so tremendously. A lot of it is due to crack cocaine and other drugs hurting our families so much,” said Strozier.
One of the research programs the Kinship Center is conducting is “Incarceration, Co-Care giving and Child Adjustment,” which deals with co-parenting for mothers who are incarcerated in Hillsborough County jails. As co-principal investigator, Strozier coordinates visits with caregivers and parents and investigates research. The Center’s main cause is to determine whether caregivers can co-parent with the actual parents.
“How well can they work together to help this child be successful?” Strozier said. “It isn’t unusual for a mother to be incarcerated and then come back home.”
The principal investigator of this program, James McHale, is a professor in the psychology department and director of Family Studies at USF St. Petersburg.
“Together (we) recognized no one had bothered to ever look at what impact it had when co-caregivers and extended networks cooperate or don’t cooperate,” he said.
One of the problems caregivers face is working together with the actual parents, said Strozier.
“Say a grandmother has four children and her daughter, the mother, comes in on the weekends and says ‘oh kids it’s great to see you. See you next Thursday,’ and she doesn’t come back. She may disrupt (or) undermine the grandmother’s parenting style.”
McHale largely credits Strozier for the Center’s success.
“There’s no way I could have ever imagined carrying out this project without she and I working together,” he said. “This is not a one-person project at all, and it’s the fact there’s a person who is so able to say ‘yeah, we’ll make that happen’ on the other end (that) just makes my work so much easier.”
In relation to foster care, kinship care tends to last longer. Every year, more children are placed with relatives than are placed in foster care, yet the research is still insufficient, said Strozier. Kinship care is proving to be even more stable than foster care.
“Children do best living with their relatives,” Strozier said. “They want to maintain family values, cultural values, be in the same school, be in the same neighborhood. We don’t do as good a job as we could in help strengthening the family and help them stay together and prevent breakdown.”
However, she says that foster care is not a terrible alternative.
“There are wonderful foster homes,” she said. “I am mighty thankful that there are foster parents out there who help with the children who can’t be with their relatives.”
Strozier hopes the strides the Kinship Center makes will strengthen the community.
“It’s our job to make a difference in terms of service and research,” she said. “It enhances the University by bringing us closer to the community and bring the community closer to us.”
As a mother of three, it is the sacrifices that the caregivers – especially grandparents – make for their new children that really impassion Strozier.
“Sometimes they don’t take their prescription medicine because they need that money to buy clothes for their kids … It’s been so moving and eyeopening to work with people that I didn’t ever really think about before. I feel very fortunate,” she said.
“She’s just a can-do kind of person,” McHale said of Strozier. “Having a colleague like that is priceless.”