Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Even Foster Care can harm children

Removing children from families can also cause harm

This is a student reaction paper about the issues around removing children from families and putting them into foster care.

In the assigned reading for class I came across the article Foster Care vs. Family Preservation: The Track Record on Safety and Well-being. This article argues that family preservation is based upon one overriding assumption: If you remove a child from the home, the child will be safe. If you leave a child at home, the child is at risk. The risk can go both ways, for instance real family preservation programs have a better record for safety than foster care. Studies have shown that children left in their own homes typically do better than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care. According to the article, a study of reported abuse in Baltimore, found the rate of "substantiated" cases of sexual abuse in foster care more than four times higher than the rate in the general population.  Using the same methodology, an Indiana study found three times more physical abuse and twice the rate of sexual abuse in foster homes than in the general population.  Studies were found that In group homes there was more than ten times the rate of physical abuse and more than 28 times the rate of sexual abuse as in the general population, in part because so many children in the homes abused each other.

Thomas Morton argues in his article “Foster care vs. Family Preservation” is the wrong debate because neither foster care nor family preservations is absolute in its safety outcomes.  The purpose of having child welfare is to ensure physical protection and emotional security for all children.  Emotional security is compromised when children are being neglected or abused. However, removing children from a home where they are neglected or abused so the child can be safe can also cause damage by the trauma experienced when the child is removed from their caregiver and placed into foster care. When a child is removed from their home, away from their primary caregiver and placed into foster care, this violates the basic trust existing in child’s life.  These occurrences can affect the child’s overall performance in life. 

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I just want to point out that while foster care situations (or even adoptive situations, for that matter) are riskier than family situations in the general population, the comparison group here is not the general population.  The comparison group here is families where a child protective worker was so concerned about the situation that they decided to remove a child from the household to protect the child from harm.  What is the risk of abuse or neglect or harm to a child in the sample of homes where a social worker decided that removing a child was necessary because of the risks to that child of staying in the household?  I have strong feeling that the risk of abuse in such households is probably more than 28 times higher than it is in the general population, and far, far greater than it is in the foster care family households or adoptive households.  
Yes, abuse and neglect can happen, and sometimes do happen, in foster care families.  But, such abuse and neglect also happen in some very small fraction of biological families or families of origin.  In that small fraction of "natural" homes where abuse takes place, the risk of further abuse or continuing abuse is very high, and much higher than the risk in foster care.
The contribution of this article is to make us remember that the very act of removing a child from a dangerous home is likely to harm that child.  Chemotherapy harms cancer patients; it may save them, or it may not, but it may also kill them, and it's always dangerous.  Removing children from their families is like that.  Even a vaccination is obviously good, in the general sense, but every one and a while someone who is vaccinated will have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, and some people will even die from vaccines.  But, for most of us, the vaccines protect us, and create a society that is protected from diseases that will do more harm, in total, than vaccines will.  Is the child protection method of removing children from homes going to be disastrous and wrong every once and a while?  Yes.  There will certainly be cases, hopefully very few and isolated cases, where children will be wrongly removed from fairly good homes, where the child protection worker will be making a bad decision, because there will be no real risk to the children, and the natural family is loving and good, but still, sometimes child protection workers will make mistakes, and in one of these cases where the child is wrongly removed from a family, the child will end up in a placement where the child will be abused. That is the nature of the system.  What is the solution?  Maybe the solution is to have interventions where teams of people move in and live with the family around the clock so the parents and children are never alone together, thus preventing any abuse, and the teams of people who have entered the household can ensure that the child is never neglected.  That would stop the harm of removing the children from bad placements, and it would stop the harm of the abuses that some children suffer while in foster-care or group homes.  Is it plausible?  Is it feasible?  Maybe it should be, but there is no state where this sort of solution has been proposed, as far as I can tell.  Far more often when I have heard people say is "some people don't really deserve to have children."  I think most people would just rather remove children from families than spend $150,000 per year to have a team of social workers and child care workers intervening in the household and preventing the parents from harming their children.  That is not where our priorities as a society are placed.

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