Children in Foster Care

By James G. Barber; Paul H. Delfabbro | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

Myths and legends in foster care

Introduction

Probably the most oft-repeated refrain in the review of the literature that appeared in Chapters 1 and 2 of this book was that there is currently insufficient empirical evidence on which to build outcome-based foster care services. Indeed, Part I of the book actually began life with the title ‘Best Practice in Foster Care’ but this had to be altered when it became clear to us that there is simply too little evidence to justify such a sanguine claim. A feature of the existing literature is that much of it is descriptive rather than evaluative; research studies typically involve small, unrepresentative samples and many are correlational in nature. Despite this, writers and practitioners consistently make assertions as if there were no ambiguity about the causal mechanisms underlying statistical associations. It is accepted practice wisdom, for example, that parental visiting produces better outcomes and that kinship care improves permanency, when all that has ever been demonstrated is that such variables are associated. Controlled outcome evaluations are therefore urgently needed before the facts of best-practice foster care can be separated from the fiction. In saying this, we recognize that the best that is likely to be possible is quasi-experimentation because there are very formidable practical and ethical obstacles to randomized controlled trials in the foster care field. In order to decide once and for all between the protagonists and the detractors of kinship care, for example (see Chapter 2), large numbers of children would need to be randomly assigned to kin and non-kin care so that the short- and long-term effects on ‘subjects’ could be dispassionately monitored. The number of children in such a study would also need to be large enough to deal with the many sources of ‘error’ that would inevitably confound interpretation of between-group differences in small samples. We trust, of course, that such an experiment would be judged by ethics committees everywhere to be unconscionable on grounds of human rights, long before its feasibility were ever seriously examined. But, even if the impediments to definitive outcome studies prove to be insuperable, the issue is not resolved by lowering the standard of evidence required

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