Family Foster Care Placement: The Child's Perspective

By Johnson, Penny Ruff; Yoken, Carol et al. | Child Welfare, September 1995 | Go to article overview

Family Foster Care Placement: The Child's Perspective


Johnson, Penny Ruff, Yoken, Carol, Voss, Ron, Child Welfare


This study of the impact of family foster care placement as seen by a number of children ages 11 to 14 found that, although placement caused severe disruption for the children because of the necessity of blending into new neighborhoods, schools, and families, and of making new friends, the children described their lives and circumstances positively for the most part. They had much to say, however, about improving the experience they underwent, about contact with their own families, and about improving family foster care for children and families generally.

Child welfare policymakers and practitioners continue to debate the relative merits of family foster care placement and in-home services as appropriate responses for state and local authorities trying to protect children who are victims of abuse and neglect. This study gives voice to the opinions of those most affected by the outcome of the debate--the children themselves. It examines the impact of the removal of a child from the home of the biological parent and the consequences of this decision from the perspective of the child. The study focuses on the children's understanding of the circumstances surrounding placements; the reasons for changes in placements; the impact of changes in school, friends, and neighborhood; the importance of the caseworker to the child; the children's thoughts about the future; the children's views of the state as an entity; and the use of family foster care as an intervention.

Background

The enactment of P.L. 96-272, the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, contributed to the debate of the merits between in-home care and family foster care by underscoring the importance of the biological family to children. It requires child welfare workers to make reasonable efforts to prevent the placement of children and to facilitate the return home of children needing placement. Efforts to prevent placement have been implemented by means of intensive family preservation service interventions. Keeping children in the biological home avoids both the monetary and the emotional costs of removing a child from home, but increases the possibility of continued harm to the child. Understanding how to weigh the costs of each strategy--in-home services or placement--is critical because of the considerable risks of serious injury to children in deciding not to remove them from their homes.

Current research in out-of-home care assesses children's development and well-being in care by comparing indicators of growth and development, such as the child's academic performance, and by examining the functioning of children formerly in care. Studies of children in out-of-home care have found that their academic performance is below grade level and that they suffer from low self-esteem [Barth 1988; Fanshel & Shinn 1978; Gil & Bogart 1982; Hicks & Nixon 1989; Rest & Watson 1984; Wald et al. 1988; Weinstein 1960]. It is not known, however, whether these problems are associated with placement in care or with the circumstances present at the time of placement, such as poverty, family conflict, or child abuse and neglect. Findings from postplacement studies suggest that, on the whole, children formerly in care function adequately as adults and are satisfied with primary relationships in their lives Festinger 1983; Lauder 1986; Maluccio 1985; Meier 1965; Rest & Watson 1984].

Research studies involving the assessment of care by the children themselves are few, and most tend to be retrospective.

number of postplacement studies have included interviews with children formerly in care about their out-of-home care experiences [Barth 1988; Festinger 1983; Meier 1965; Poulin 1985; Rest & Watson 1984; Triseliotis 1984; Van Der Waals 1960]. Though such postplacement interviews portray out-of-home care as largely benign, studies of this kind offer data filtered by time and memory. The present study captures the feelings and attitudes of children in family foster care in the midst of their placement experiences and offers an opportunity for examining the immediate costs and benefits of placement to the child. …

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