Kids Living With Relatives Have Fewer Problems Than Those in Foster Homes

MONDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Children removed from their homes due to mistreatment have fewer behavioral problems if they're placed with relatives -- called kinship care -- than if they're placed in foster care, a new study says.

The study, by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, looked at 1,309 children who entered out-of-home care between 1999 and 2000. Of those children, 599 were placed in kinship care, and 710 were placed in foster care. Of those in foster care, 17 percent moved to kinship care after at least one month in foster care.

Interviews were conducted with the children, caregivers, birth parents, child welfare workers and teachers at the start of the study and again at 18 months and 36 months later.

The study found that 32 percent of children immediately placed in kinship care had behavioral problems 36 months later, compared with 39 percent of children who moved from foster care to kinship care, and 46 percent of children who stayed in foster care.

Children in kinship care were less likely to change placements frequently. At 36 months, 58 percent of those in kinship care had achieved a sustained placement or were reunified with their parents, compared with 32 percent of children in foster care. The study also found that 58 percent of children who started in foster care but switched to kinship care reunified with their parents within 45 days, compared with 40 percent of children who stayed in foster care.

The study was published in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

"Placement stability is a common goal of child welfare systems and has consistently been shown to result in better outcomes for all children living in out-of-home care," Dr. David M. Rubin and colleagues wrote.

"This finding supports efforts to maximize placement of children with willing and available kin when they enter out-of-home care," they concluded. "When kinship care is a realistic option and appropriate safeguards have been met, children in kinship care might have an advantage over children in foster care in achieving permanency and improved well-being, albeit with the recognition that their needs will remain great, exceeding those of children who have not experienced child maltreatment."

In the last two decades, cases of kinship care have been increasing. In 2005, more than 2.5 million children in the United States were living with relatives, according to background information in the study.

"The recommendations of the authors to expand the resources given to kinship providers with a national kinship guardianship program and to endeavor to more expeditiously notify kin and place children into kinship care deserves underscoring," Richard P. Barth of the University of Maryland in Baltimore, wrote in an accompanying editorial. "These are low-cost strategies that deserve implementation given the evidence that children prefer to be placed with relatives and that the care of relatives may support better behavioral outcomes."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about child abuse.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, June 2, 2008

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