Academic journal article Social Work Research

Attitudes toward Out-of-Home Care over 18 Months: Changing Perceptions of Youths in Foster Care

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Attitudes toward Out-of-Home Care over 18 Months: Changing Perceptions of Youths in Foster Care

Article excerpt

This article seeks to uncover children's evolving views of placement and to delineate characteristics associated with positive and negative attitude change over time. The authors used a subsample drawn from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. The subsample of 290 youths age seven and older who had been in out-of-home placement during the first 18 months of this study was analyzed by using latent transition analysis (LTA) to understand how children's views of placement changed over time and what covariates might be associated with these changes. A three-class solution was the most stable at both time points and highlighted three different sets of perceptions about out-of-home care. The LTA provides additional detail demonstrating that the majority of youths did not change their attitudes over the 18 month time span, particularly those who are very happy or very unhappy in their current placements. Age, gender, and mental health status were related to particular types of transitions. The results demonstrate the heterogeneity of experiences for youths in out-of-home care and highlight the need for tailored policies and interventions to assist youths in processing such experiences.

KEY WORDS: foster parents; latent transition analysis; out-of-home care; youth attitudes


Clearly, out-of-home care benefits many children who are not safe living with their biological caregivers. Research from the 1970s forward documents developmental gains for children in care compared with those who return home (Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Horwitz, Balestracci, & Simms, 2001; Leitenberg, Burchard, Healy, & Fuller, 1981; Wald, Carlsmith, & Leiderman, 1988). Recent findings confirm that children who remain in foster care for six years exhibited fewer problem behaviors than those reunified with their parents, despite having multiple placement moves (Taussig, Clyman, & Landsverk, 2001) and that contact with social services allows children in need of mental health services to obtain them (Farmer et al., 2001). Yet, an underlying anxiety common to policymakers and frontline child welfare workers alike is that the documented developmental gains achieved in foster care come with a high emotional price: the pain of separation from one's family of origin.

Prior research has used snapshots of children's experiences in care or retrospective descriptions by foster care alumni to understand the effect of out-of-home placement. This literature supports the contention that children are generally satisfied with their out-of-home placements. Studies using both small and large samples found high satisfaction with caregivers and few reports of serious problems (Johnson, Yoken, &Voss, 1995; Wilson & Conroy, 1999). Indeed, a sample of Canadian foster children consistently rated their foster families as emotionally "healthier" than their biological families (Kufeldt, Armstrong, & Dorosh, 1995).

Yet, the experience is not uniformly positive. Early findings from the most recent Casey National Alumni Study show a birthrate to teenagers in care to be double the national rate (17.2% compared with 8.2%). Homelessness affects more than one-fifth of youths for at least one night in their first year following discharge from care (Casey Family Programs, 2003). Many foster children retrospectively report concerns about their educational experience while in care (Barth, 1990; Festinger, 1983; Wedeven, Pecora, Hurwitz, Howell, & Newell, 1997), the severity of punishments in their foster homes (Fanshel, Finch, & Grundy, 1990), and a desire to have more influence in decisions about placement and visitation with their parents (Festinger, 1983). Furthermroe, the clinical literature associates severe behavioral issues such as suicide attempts with competing loyalties between foster and biological families (Haight, Black, Workman, & Tara, 2001; Pilowsky & Kates, 1996). …

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