A Festering Problem – foster care

by Robert Whiston FRSA Nov 2010

The following article written by Eleanor Wilson is taken from a New Zealand newspaper and dated 27th February 2006.

It describes how the risk of ‘poorer outcomes’ are multiplied when children are put “into care.” In Britain children who are taken “into care” feature strongly as ‘run-aways’, those sleeping ‘rough’ in many large cities and teenage prostitution.

We are, by now, all very familiar with academic studies that show that family disruption, i.e. a euphemism for divorce, lends itself to poor outcomes in the way young people cope with life – the taking of drugs, high alcohol consumption, higher pregnancy rates, poor schools grades and poor job skills later in life leading to lower paid jobs (higher mortality and higher morbidity rates).

It is an grave aspect that men’s and fathers’ groups have uniquely vocalised and brought to government attention for over 15 years. But it is, one has to admit, always been greeted with indifference and inaction in official circles. It was fathers groups who, in that now dim past, first put outcomes on the political agenda as a objective measure for assessing programes, policies and initiatives. No wonder it was  resisted for over a deade.

Damaged goods

The setting up of the Centre For Social Justice may prove to be the counterweight, the trigger, to overcome this inertia which one suspects has its origins in a sordid lust for social engineering experimentation by those who now have a reputation to defend and a university pension to protect.

All of these poorer outcomes manifest themselves in criminal court appearances for one offence or another, and often repeat offending. Fifty years ago this type of behaviour was given the umbrella title of “juvenile delinquency.” It is a phrase that has fallen out of fashion as new sub-sets of ‘professionals’ have sprung up to deal with facets of the problems it creates. Nevertheless, it soundly encapsulates every aspect of the problems teenagers and pre-teens create both for themselves and society at large.

It is interesting to note that the results of the survey were circulated to 9,000 doctors in Australia and New Zealand but informing the judiciary, it would appear, did not occur to the authors. Surely, this is the third leg that  makes a two legged stool viable ?

Executive Summary:

The study, carried out by Dr Michael Tarren-Sweeney with Professor Philip Hazell (both from Canterbury University), on behalf of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP).

The survey was based on a mail survey completed by child carers. The results, which were published by the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, was made using a sample size of representing 347 children “in care.”

It found that where courts had issued a  ‘care’ order and the children had parents or relatives also living in New South Wales (NSW), they had “exceptionally poor mental health and socialisation”, e.g. attachment difficulties, self-injury, sexual behaviour etc.

The most disturbed children tended to go through even more placements – as many as one a month – as a result of foster carers being unable to cope with some children. The turnover in foster carers further exacerbated the already psychologically damaged child creating a vicious downward spiral.

Pamela Turner, chairwoman of the Christchurch Family and Foster Care Association, said her 39 years experience as a foster carer had taught her to expect psychological problems in children placed into care.

“I think it’s the separation from their parents, basically, the separation from their own mum and dad, no matter how good the foster carers are and there’re some very, very good ones.”

– – <oo<0>00> – –

Fostered children ‘disturbed’      

By Eleanor Wilson, The Press:(Christchurch, NZ),  27 February 2006

Children in foster care are at high risk of experiencing mental health problems, according to the findings of a survey by a Christchurch doctor.

The study, carried out by Canterbury University’s Dr Michael Tarren-Sweeney with Professor Philip Hazell for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), looked at nearly 350 cared-for children and found they had “exceptionally poor mental health and socialisation”.

Tarren-Sweeney, a senior lecturer in child and family psychology at the School of Education, said the study was the first of its kind.

“More than half of boys and girls were described as having clinically significant psychiatric disturbances.

“These disturbances were complex and characterised by attachment difficulties, relationship insecurity, sexual behaviours, trauma-related anxiety, conduct problems and defiance, and inattention or hyperactivity, as well as uncommon problems such as self-injury and food-maintenance behaviours.”

He said ensuring there was proper psychological support for children and their carers was essential in the light of the findings.

Christchurch Family and Foster Care Association chairwoman Pamela Turner said 39 years as a foster carer had taught her to expect children in her care to have psychological problems.

“I think it’s the separation from their parents, basically, the separation from their own mum and dad, no matter how good the foster carers are and there’re some very, very good ones.”

The reasons for the children being taken from their parents could also contribute to poor emotional health. “I don’t think I know any foster children that aren’t emotionally disturbed or, in the long term, won’t have mental-health problems,” Turner said.

She said children often were moved from family to family and, even at a very early age, that could cause emotional and behavioural problems.

The most disturbed children tended to go through even more placements – as many as one a month – because carers could not cope, causing the children further psychological damage.

“If they’re moved around from place to place, they’re not going to form any attachments,” said Turner.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, where a child has been affected by their mother’s drinking during pregnancy, and the impact of drug addiction in mothers also contributed to such conditions as hyperactivity.

She said some children had counselling through the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), if they had been the victim of a crime, or received some help from Child, Youth and Family services (CYFs), but support was not always available for them or their carers. [1]

“They have to realise, these aren’t like other kids. They’ve been through a lot,” said Turner.

The study, being published by the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, asked the carers of 347 children in court-ordered foster care and kinship care with relatives in New South Wales to complete a mail survey using child behaviour and assessment checklists.

Its findings are to be used by the RACP, which represents more than 9,000 doctors in New Zealand and Australia, to draw up a policy on healthcare for children in out-of-home care.

END  


[1] New Zealand’s ACC pays for professional therapy costs, not a cash lump sum paid over to the individual as in the UK.

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