Parental Care, Institutional Alloparenting, and Child Health Outcomes in Jamaica

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Regency C (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Robin Nelson , University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA

Studies in human reproduction consistently find that survival in infancy and early childhood is largely dependent upon the presence of reliable and highly invested caretakers. More often than not, these caretakers consist of biologically related kin. However, it is widely accepted that humans create and maintain families in a multitude of ways. Although humans have the cognitive ability and social complexity to modify the enactment of these familial forms, all kin and caretakers are not equally able to invest in dependent offspring. In this presentation, I will discuss the diversity of familial forms in the Caribbean, and my research on parental and alloparental investment, institutional care settings and child health outcomes in Jamaica. Specifically, this study examines the growth and development of children living in state-sponsored residential childcare facilities as compared to their age and gender matched peers who are living with their biological family members. Ethnographic, anthropometric, and biometric data were collected from children living throughout the central mountainous region of the Jamaica. Investment received by these children varies considerably in different care settings. This variability in received care correlates to differential health outcomes. This research explores whether institutional care settings simulate parental investment behaviors, and whether living with biological kin is consistently more beneficial to the growth and development of young children. It also examines how cultural variability in parenting styles may correlate to different forms of investment. By investigating the setting and the contexts of care for these children, we gain broader insights into the various pathways by which children obtain access to essential psychosocial and material resources essential to their successful navigation of this important developmental period.  Most critically, we also learn what happens when these avenues of investment are unavailable.