Academic journal article Child Welfare

Support Groups for Children in Alternate Care: A Largely Untapped Therapeutic Resource

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Support Groups for Children in Alternate Care: A Largely Untapped Therapeutic Resource

Article excerpt

It is well documented that children in out-of-home care are at risk with regard to their mental and emotional health, and their physical and moral safety. For example, Palmer [1990] argues that placement in out-of-home care increases the vulnerability of foster children because it weakens links with the biological family. Heath et al. [1989] refer to the trauma experienced before coming into care, educational discontinuities, and the continuing stresses and uncertainty of the care itself, as factors contributing to the low educational attainment of children in care. Thorpe and Swart [1992] have shown a significant correlation between the number of symptoms of mental illness and the time spent in reception centers and out-of-home care. Colton et al. (1991] have found high rates of behavioral problems among children in care, and Widom [1991] argues that those children who experience frequent placement moves are prone to high rates of delinquency, adult criminality, and violent criminal behavior. Fanshel et al. [1989] have found in a large-scale follow-up of children in care that they are likely to experience school failure, need a confidant, and follow "predictable life courses" in out-of-home care. Rice and McFadden [1988] also report on the anger, fear, and confusion experienced by children in care, and Barth [1986] argues that these children deserve assistance because they are at risk of "abridged futures."

From the authors' experiences in the child welfare field, it is apparent that while endeavors are being made to ensure that children's physical, educational, and social needs are well met, and that emotional supports are available, limited resources and lack of training often reduce the possibility of providing the counseling and therapeutic input demanded by many children in alternate care. Lush et al. [19911 offered psychotherapy to deprived children in family foster care and group homes, and reported that all of them suffered from anxiety, especially fear of abandonment or rejection. Other emotional problems often noted include attachment disorders, anger, frustration, aggressive behavior, poor school performance, identity problems, concentration difficulties, poor peer relations, depression, and psychotic-like behavior. To the foster care worker these types of behavior are often bewildering and problematic: they jeopardize placements and frustrate workers who have the key role of linking the foster family or group home, school, and community, without adequate support from the statutory bodies that have legal guardianship or supervision of the child.

Although this article does not seek to question the motives or role of alternate care, it does raise questions about the adequacy of support services in meeting all the needs of the placed child. It was in this context that the authors developed a pilot therapeutic group program for meeting the emotional needs of a group of seven children in alternate care who, for a variety of reasons, were causing concern for their case network. One reason for developing this group was that resources did not allow children to be seen for therapy on an individual basis. Another reason was the inherent advantages that groupwork might offer children in out-of-home care. As well as providing guided therapeutic intervention, groupwork would provide the opportunity for children to share the experiences of their lives with others, and to come to an understanding that they were not alone in their current confusion and anger.

In addition to the above, it was noted that other elements of the alternative care nexus have been subjected to groupwork to deal with issues involved in the alternate care of children. For example, Charbonneau and Kaplan [1989] and Levin [1992] report enthusiastically on groups for biological parents, while Steinhauer et al. [1989] review group models for foster parents. It was felt that a therapeutic group approach would be similarly beneficial for the children in care, even though such an approach appears to have been underutilized. …

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