Fink! Still at Large: A Study on Youth Involved with the Child Welfare System Suggests That They May Be 'At Risk for Negative Outcomes.' to What Extent Might CWS Contact Affect a Child's Mental Health?

By Fink, Faul J. | Clinical Psychiatry News, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Fink! Still at Large: A Study on Youth Involved with the Child Welfare System Suggests That They May Be 'At Risk for Negative Outcomes.' to What Extent Might CWS Contact Affect a Child's Mental Health?


Fink, Faul J., Clinical Psychiatry News


I hate so-called research papers that wander for pages with a great number of citations but no proven conclusions. The researchers, affiliated with Duke University, try to demonstrate--but do not--that young people aged 18-21 who have had some experience in their childhood or adolescent years with the child welfare system (CWS) are more likely to have mental health, justice system, or other serious problems that affect their lives as they grow older (doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2009.03.010).

I get no sense from the authors of the paper, published in the Children and Youth Services Review, that young men and women who have had child welfare contact had serious problems that led to welfare being called in the first place. They also had difficulties with their parents, who may have been abusive which, with or without the welfare system, creates serious problems for the youth.

The work on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti and his colleagues shows that children who have serious and accumulated traumas have a great deal of risk-taking behavior in their adolescent years. All of these factors make them more vulnerable, so they often end up in foster care or jail--which brings them into the child welfare system. It is the precursors in a child's life that lead to the initial report to the welfare system that need to be calculated into the equation and not a superficial idea that somehow the child welfare experience leads to some serious deterioration in their condition or life course.

Millions of children in this country are seriously abused every day. In some cases, a relative or neighbor calls the welfare system, and an investigation is done. Meanwhile, the abuse often goes unnoticed. In either case, our children are hurt and have nowhere to go to escape the pain. "Why doesn't my mother love me?" "Why doesn't my father live with us so we can be a real family?" It is these kinds of questions that set a child up for trouble at every turn on the road.

He or she may be doing poorly in school, acting out, joining a gang, bullying younger children, getting suspended from school, and on and on. This is a set-up for getting arrested and getting into the juvenile justice system or getting into the dependency side of the welfare department that often results in going to a foster home to live.

Having contact with the welfare department in and of itself is only a symbol of what preceded in the child's life, and it does not surprise me. What would surprise most Americans is that a relatively small number of children actually get to be a part of the welfare system.

Behind every closed door on the block, another whole scenario is being acted out by the inhabitants. We should not be surprised by how many children are seriously and repeatedly beaten in middle and upper class homes. Remember that Dr. Felitti's research with an "n" of 17,000 was done on all middle class people, because they all had Kaiser Permanente insurance. And in his sample, significant numbers of children had experienced physical, sexual, emotional abuse and/or neglect.

Just like the entire nation denied that there was such a thing as physical abuse of children until 1963, we persist in denying the truth of the world in which we live, which is why we must look behind superficial "research" that "discovers" that children who have had to deal with the child welfare system have a tougher road than those who do not.

The number of vulnerable groups in our society is significant, and the opportunity for getting hurt as a result of these vulnerabilities is also "very" great. We are not able to afford efforts to address vulnerabilities in advance of getting into trouble so we can keep children in school, help them graduate, and recognize how difficult it is for them to make it.

A good example is the program for which I am currently trying to obtain funding. This is a day program that will run from 8:00 a. …

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Fink! Still at Large: A Study on Youth Involved with the Child Welfare System Suggests That They May Be 'At Risk for Negative Outcomes.' to What Extent Might CWS Contact Affect a Child's Mental Health?
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