Academic journal article The Future of Children

Safety and Stability for Foster Children: A Developmental Perspective

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Safety and Stability for Foster Children: A Developmental Perspective

Article excerpt


Children in foster care face a challenging journey through childhood. In addition to the troubling family circumstances that bring them into state care, they face additional difficulties within the child welfare system that may further compromise their healthy development. This article discusses the importance of safety and stability to healthy child development and reviews the research on the risks associated with maltreatment and the foster care experience. It finds:

* Family stability is best viewed as a process of caregiving practices that, when present, can greatly facilitate healthy child development.

* Children in foster care, as a result of exposure to risk factors such as poverty, maltreatment, and the foster care experience, face multiple threats to their healthy development, including poor physical health, attachment disorders, compromised brain functioning, inadequate social skills, and mental health difficulties.

* Providing stable and nurturing families can bolster the resilience of children in care and ameliorate negative impacts on their developmental outcomes.

The author concludes that developmentally-sensitive child welfare policies and practices designed to promote the well-being of the whole child, such as ongoing screening and assessment and coordinated systems of care, are needed to facilitate the healthy development of children in foster care.

Protecting and nurturing the young is a universal goal across human cultures. An abundance of research from multiple fields confirms the importance of the family unit as the provider of safe, stable, and nurturing environments for children. Unquestionably, children who are reared in safe and stable environments have better short and long term adjustment than children who are exposed to harmful experiences. Moreover, research demonstrates that children exposed to violent, dangerous, and/or highly unstable environments are more likely to experience developmental difficulties. (1) Children exposed to violence within their homes experience the most deleterious outcomes. For example, children exposed to physical maltreament often experience impairments in their physical health, cognitive development, academic achievement, interpersonal relationships, and mental health. (2) Erratic, insecure home environments and a lack of continuity, and constancy in caregiving are also associated with poor developmental outcomes.

Children in foster care are particularly vulnerable to detrimental outcomes, as they often come into state care due to their exposure to maltreatment, family instability, and a number of other risk factors that compromise their healthy development. Foster children may be witnesses to and victims of family violence, or may not have been supervised or provided for in an appropriate manner. They may have been subjected to the inadequate and impaired caregiving that results from a variety of parental difficulties, such as substance abuse, mental illness, and developmental disabilities. Moreover, these children are predominantly from impoverished backgrounds, a situation that exacerbates the risk factors they experience.

This article examines the research on the importance of safety and stability in the lives of children and in the lives of foster children in particular. Importantly, family stability, is defined not as a specific family structure or condition, but rather as a family environment in which caregiving practices provide children with the consistent, nurturing care they need to thrive. The article also discusses the factors in the family and child welfare systems that influence foster children's development. It concludes with recommendations for developing more developmentally-sensitive child welfare policies and practices.

Family Stability and Healthy Child Development

Child development can be understood as the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional maturation of human beings from conception to adulthood, a process that is influenced by interacting biological and environmental processes. …

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