Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.



Moms Beat Fosters!

November 6, 2006 permalink

Three University of Minnesota scientists have made a discovery that is surprising to social work professionals but common sense to everyone else — parental care is superior to foster care, even in cases where the parents have been found to be abusive. Below is Richard Wexler's commentary.



November 6, 2006


Startling results from a Minnesota study

For many years, NCCPR has maintained that when a child is “at risk” in his or her own home, most children most of the time are far better off if the family gets help so the child can stay in the home instead of placing the child in foster care.

But what if the family doesn’t get help? A new study from Minnesota includes some startling findings.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota apparently have been following a large group of “at risk” families for some time. And as part of the research they tracked three groups. One group went into foster care. Another group -- equally maltreated – remained in their own homes, but apparently got little or no help. Indeed, this second group was identified by the researchers themselves, not child protective services. A third group was equally disadvantaged economically but suffered no maltreatment.

The study is called simply, “The impact of foster care on development.” It was published this year in the journal Development and Psychopathology, (Vol. 18, 2006, pp. 57–76). Sarah Fenske, a reporter for Phoenix New Times, found the study while working on an excellent story about child welfare in Arizona.

The researchers measured the behavior, and general emotional state, of all three groups before the foster care group went into foster care, after they came out, and some time afterwards.

Not surprisingly, the group that was not maltreated did best. But the group that did not enter foster care, on average, did better than the group that did.

Thank about that for a moment. Two groups of children, apparently suffering equal levels of maltreatment. Apparently in the same condition psychologically when one group went into foster care. And even though the children left in their own homes got little or no help, the foster children still came out worse.

Not all foster children did as badly. Those placed with relatives did better than those placed with strangers.

Of course these findings are averages. There are bound to have been some children within the group who were so ill-treated at home that even foster care was an improvement.

Also, the study was done in Minnesota, one of the most remove-happy states in the nation. Using the formula in NCCPR’s Rate-of-Removal Index, Minnesota takes away children at a rate nearly three times the national average. Only three states, Nebraska, Wyoming and Iowa, are worse. So a sample from, say, Illinois, which is far more careful about targeting who is taken away and so, takes children at about one-seventh the Minnesota rate, might produce different results.

But this still is further evidence that foster-care is an extreme intervention that should be used only when a child is so badly treated at home that even the inherent harm of removal truly is the less detrimental alternative.

And evidence is the right word. The mantra in child welfare now is “evidence-based” – as in: “By golly, your program had better have genuine scholarly evidence that it works or don’t expect it to be funded!”

In fact, “evidence-based” can be a code-phrase used to stifle alternatives to approaches, like foster-care, that so dominate the field that nobody ever asks its proponents for any evidence. If you want to try an alternative to foster care, you have to dot every i and cross every t to prove it works. But if you run a foster-care program, or, say a residential treatment center (for which there is a ton of evidence of failure) it’s business as usual.

Substitute care, whether through orphanages or foster care, has dominated child welfare in this country since at least 1853, when Protestant minister Charles Loring Brace first started grabbing the children of New York’s Catholic immigrants, whom he feared, loathed, and deemed genetically inferior, and shipping them off to the south and Midwest on “orphan trains.”

Isn’t it time the agencies that make up the modern foster care-industrial complex were forced to prove that their intervention “works”?

Source: Richard Wexler's blog