Kids do better with relatives than with foster care
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children who have to leave their homes because of abusive parents have fewer behavioral problems if they are placed with relatives -- an arrangement known as kinship care -- than if they are placed in foster care, research shows.
In 2005, more than 2.5 million children were being raised by relatives other than their birth parents. Beginning in the late 1990s, child welfare agencies increased their efforts to place children with kin "despite scant and conflicting evidence of improved outcomes for children in kinship care compared with children in general foster care, researchers note in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
To better understand the experiences and outcomes of children in kinship and foster care, Dr. David M. Rubin, of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues analyzed data from 1,309 children placed in kinship or foster care between 1999 and 2000.
Of the participating children, 599 were initially placed in kinship care. A total of 710 entered foster care; of those, 17 percent moved to kinship care after at least 1 month in foster care.
After consideration of a child's initial risk for behavior problems and other factors that might influence the results, the researchers found that fewer children who enter kinship care directly had behavioral problems 36 months later (32 percent) compared with children who moved from foster care to kinship care (39 percent) and children who stayed in foster care (46 percent).
Children in kinship care were also less apt to change their living arrangements frequently. At 3 years, more than half (58 percent) had achieved a sustained placement or were back living with their parents, compared with 32 percent of those in foster care.
This study, Rubin's team writes, "supports efforts to maximize placement of children with willing and available kin when they enter out-of-home care."
Dr. Richard P. Barth, of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, thinks the findings support actions that reduce the number of placement moves for children, as well as those that support caregivers.
"The recommendations of (Rubin and colleagues) 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 deserve underscoring," Barth writes in a commentary published with the study.
"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," Barth adds.
SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, June 2008.