Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Hillary N. Fouts

Committee Members

Mary Jane Moran, Elizabeth Johnson, Terri Combs-Orme


Most researchers agree about the importance of having a rich network of relationships and adequate support system. However, a limited number of studies have focused on young children’s social support networks or have examined the role that culture plays in shaping these relationships. This dissertation includes three manuscripts that address distinct aspects of children’s social support networks, guided by Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological perspective. The objectives of the first manuscript are twofold. First, a systematic literature review was conducted to determine the current state of knowledge related to children’s social support networks. The results from this review revealed that further examination of these constructs is needed among informal/less bounded settings and less industrialized societies. Second, a novel framework for the study of children’s social support networks is proposed. This framework provides an ecological view of children’s social support networks and recognizes the unique characteristics of families that may moderate the structure and functionality of children’s social networks.

The second and third manuscripts examine the social support networks of young children from four different ethnic groups (Kamba, Kikuyu, Luo, and Maasai) in an informal urban settlement in Kenya. In the second manuscript, a qualitative and quantitative description of the various types of support available to children in this context is provided. Different forms of the same support were identified in the qualitative observations. While emotional, informational, instrumental, and material types of support were more often provided by adults, child social partners were usually the greatest sources of social/companionship. Among adults, mothers were the greatest source of each type of support observed. Ethnic group differences in the amount of support received from adult social partners were identified between Luo and Maasai. The third manuscript focuses on the structure of children’s social networks, including the total size, types of interactions, and the strength and density of different types of relationships. Results indicated that larger networks do not necessarily imply that more highly involved people are available for children. Ethnic group differences related to children’s social network size revealed that Maasai children tended to have larger social networks compared to the other ethnic groups.

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