Study: Children from Poor Parents, Even if they have a Drug Problem, do Worse if Put into Foster Care
by Terri LaPoint
Health Impact News
Children fare better in their own homes with family than they do in foster care situations. The evidence continues to mount that this is true, even when the child’s home has problems. In the supposed effort to protect children, the Child Protective System actually increases trauma for children when they take them away from their parents, relatives, and everything they know.
Foster parents, even those with good intentions, simply cannot replace the basic human need that children have for their biological families, and it is becoming increasingly evident that many foster parents do not have such saintly intentions when they take in children.
The Lancet recently published a new study which shows that preschool children taken from their homes are twice as likely when they become young adults to have psychological problems and criminal convictions than those left in their own homes. Unlike previous studies, this long term, population-based study matched the children in foster care with children from families with similar sociological and economic demographics.
The study comes out of Finland and is entitled, “Out-of-home placement in early childhood and psychiatric diagnoses and criminal convictions in young adulthood: a population-based propensity score-matched study.”
Most Children Not Taken for Reasons of Abuse
The authors of the study acknowledge that the majority of children taken from their homes in Finland, like the United States, are not taken for reasons of abuse:
The most common reasons for placement are parents’ inability to care for the child because of their physical or mental illness or because of the child’s need for special care and education.
In the United States, less than 16% of all the children removed from their homes by Child Protective Services were removed for reasons of physical abuse (12%) and sexual abuse (4%), according to the 2017 AFCARS (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System) report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Source.)
Finland’s Child Protective Services system seems to have much in common with the system in the United States. According to an investigative report from a Finnish public broadcaster YLE, there are:
High numbers of children in foster care, insufficient supervision of alternative care facilities, inadequate training of social workers …. One critic says the system is broken partly because of a whistle-blower culture, unfettered power given to social workers – and big bucks paid out for children placed in care.
More Money Is Not the Answer
They spend billions of euros on foster care and child protection, yet the damage to children taken by the system is significant. The criticisms from Finland cited by YLE are the same ones we see frequently in the United States:
- Families are being destroyed with false accusations. Too much power is given to social workers.
If I don’t do as they say they threaten to take the kids away. Even my lawyer says I should shut up … and that I can’t fight the system.
It’s been three years and I’m seeing the kids less and less frequently. It’s like the kids for cash, for-profit system in the US. (Source).
The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform examined the Lancet study and concluded:
The fact that researchers got these results in Finland is important for a very different reason: In America foster-care apologists constantly blame the rotten outcomes of foster care on the fact that the system is underfunded. If only we had more money, they claim, we could fix it.
But Finland is a world leader in social welfare spending; by some measures it’s #1 in the European Union. If money is the problem, then the results from Finland should be vastly different. That they are not is still more evidence that foster care is inherently so traumatic for a child that it is fundamentally unfixable.
Molly McGrath Tierney, the former Director for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services that oversees foster care, agrees.
In her TED talk she states that when she was overseeing the department, they:
articulated a mission and repeated it like a broken record, “Kids ought to be in families.”
The System Targets Poor Families and Preterm Babies
The Finland study looked at all children born in 1997 who were first taken from their families between the ages of 2 and 6. The researchers utilized the 1997 Finnish Birth Cohort, which contains data from every child born in Finland in 1987.
They accessed the national Finnish health care data base for psychiatric diagnoses and psychotropic medication prescriptions to follow this group of children as they became adults between the ages of 18 to 25. They looked at criminal convictions for the same group. According to the researchers:
To our knowledge, this is the first study to use data from medical records for psychiatric problems and legal records for criminal offences.
When they looked at the rates of children placed into foster care as a whole, they found that poorer families were more likely to have their children taken. According to the researchers:
individuals who were placed as children were more likely than non-placed controls to have come from families that used social assistance benefits, and have parents who were very young, less educated, smoked during pregnancy, divorced, or diagnosed with a mental health issue.
They found that children taken from their parents were also more likely to have been born preterm, but that was the only significant difference between the children themselves who were taken versus those who were not.
Researchers sought to differentiate whether the harm could be attributed to time in the foster care system or if the outcomes were because the children who were placed in the system typically came from family situations that placed them at increased risk of such outcomes anyway. The authors stated that:
Children placed out-of-home usually come from low-income families, with few resources or social support, high rates of physical violence, psychological and social problems, and abuse or neglect.
As these same characteristics are also risk factors for poor mental health and criminal behaviour, it is difficult to establish which observed negative outcomes for placed children are attributable to placement or to those background characteristics.
Therefore, they constructed the study to deal with this variable.
Family Situation Does Not Account for Increase in Bad Outcomes
In order to make the distinction, the study carefully matched foster children with children who were not taken from their homes who came from similar economic and family backgrounds.
Once they took into account these risk factors, researchers found that children taken from their homes and placed into the system had double the risk of significant psychological problems and criminal activity than those children who remained with their families:
In this population-wide birth cohort study using data from linked administrative databases, we found that children removed from their parents and placed in institutions or foster care at ages 2–6 years had odds of having a psychiatric diagnosis, filling prescriptions for psychotropic medications, or having a criminal record in young adulthood (18–25 years) that were twice as high compared with their non-placed counterparts.
Of the children taken from their homes, 33% were treated for psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders, including psychotic and bipolar disorders, depression and anxiety, and “substance-related disorders. This is compared to 17% of the matched controls who were not taken.
More than a third of children placed into foster care, 36%, had some kind of criminal conviction between the ages of 18 to 25, compared to 21% of children who were not taken even though there were similar home conditions to the ones who were removed.
According to the researchers:
our findings suggest that placed children have an excess risk of poor outcomes in young adulthood compared with non-placed children, over and above what might be explained by measured risk factors reflecting sociodemographic characteristics and family background.
Children Need Their Families
Children were designed biologically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually to need connection with their parents and other family members. Attachment is a fundamental human need that is acknowledged by the authors of the study:
Children’s dependence and attachment to the family is fundamental in early childhood, and disrupting attachment via out-of-home placement could have a negative effect on future outcomes.
The authors did not seek to determine why placement into foster care led to negative outcomes, but they state that:
Placement could lead to psychiatric illnesses because of the hazards of foster or institutional care, including poor quality and disrupted care (ie, change in the mode of care).
The timing of placement—ie, during early childhood—might have disrupted attachment with parents during a sensitive developmental period….
However, the matching procedure and sensitivity analyses suggest that the home life characteristics that led to out-of-home placement cannot explain the pattern of results.
Other Studies Confirm that Children Are Better off at Home
This is hardly the first study to look at outcomes comparing children in foster care and children left in “troubled” homes. There have been numerous other studies, and they all come to the same conclusion: children left in troubled homes with their families do far better than children put into foster care.
Joseph Doyle, an economics professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, published a study which tracked at least 15,000 kids from 1990 to 2002. USA Today reported on the study which was the largest study of its kind at that time.
Joseph Doyle did another study, one year later in 2008, comparing children left in troubled homes with foster care children to see which group was more likely to be arrested as adults.
The study looked at 23,000 children, and it found that
“children placed in foster care have arrest, conviction, and imprisonment rates as adults that are three times higher than those of children who remained at home.”
Read the full study here.
See our coverage of other studies:
Even Cocaine Abused Babies Also Do Better with Their Own Mothers
“What about the babies who are born addicted to drugs?” some may ask.
Even in those situations, an older study conducted by University of Florida researchers found that babies born to mothers who use cocaine fare better with their biological mothers than those who were taken from their mothers and placed with foster parents or relatives.
According to Science Daily, the study compared babies taken from mothers who used cocaine, to babies whose mothers used cocaine but were not taken, and to babies born to non-drug using mothers. The babies included in the study were all “equally healthy.”
Researchers discovered that:
Six months after birth, babies who went to live with a relative or foster parent were significantly less likely to smile, reach, roll over or sit up compared with children who remained with their mothers.
Some of the babies were not taken immediately after birth, but were removed by social services at some point later, but Dr. Indrani Sinha, pediatric resident at UF involved in the study, noted the alarming effect of removing newborns from their mothers:
But it was the babies who were immediately placed in foster care after birth that were at greatest risk for lowered motor development, she said.
The System Is Filled with Children Who Don’t Belong There
As horrific as the outcomes are for children who are taken from their parents and placed into foster care, many policy makers, legislators, and our friends and neighbors continue to assert that foster care is necessary to protect children from abuse and harm.
Billions of dollars are poured into the system, but the evidence consistently shows that the foster care system is not helping children.
The majority of children, in the U.S. as well as Finland, are taken for “neglect” – an ambiguous term that can be interpreted to include dirty dishes in the sink, playing outside in the yard, or simply being poor.
Only 17% of the allegations against parents are “substantiated” or “founded” according to the 2016 Child Maltreatment Report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Source.)
50,000 Innocent Parents Sitting in Prison?
As hundreds of stories covered by Health Impact News demonstrate, innocent parents continue to lose their children to the Child Protection and foster care system.
Allegations of Shaken Baby Syndrome, or Abusive Head Trauma as it is sometimes called, is one of the top medical reasons that children are taken from parents. The babies have one or more symptoms in the “Triad” of symptoms, which include brain bleeding, retinal hemorrhage, and brain swelling.
Dr. Waney Squier is a world-renowned pediatric neuropathologist who points out that these symptoms happen in normal babies who have not been abused. She recently told BBC that:
almost ALL newborn babies have some bleeding into the dura, the membrane that surrounds the brain, and quite a high proportion have bleeding under the brain [dura].
If you do brain scans on newborn babies, half of them have both the subdural bleeding and the retinal bleeding, which is characteristic of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Pediatric Neuropathologist on Failed Science Behind Shaken Baby Syndrome: Doctors Value Their Careers More than the Truth
Many of these cases involve babies who actually have infantile rickets or other metabolic bone disorder, but doctors failed to correctly diagnose the problem, instead accusing the parents of Shaken Baby Syndrome.
Dr. David Ayoub, radiologist and expert on infantile rickets, told Jean Casarez of CNN in an interview that the parents wrongfully imprisoned after being accused of Shaken Baby Abuse numbers “In the tens of thousands.”
Health Impact News contacted Dr. Ayoub and asked him how he came to these numbers of “tens of thousands” innocently convicted for child abuse.
Was it just a guess, pulling some numbers out of thin air?
Dr. Ayoub replied by stating to Health Impact News:
I get about 1 case per day request, and they are nearly 100% rickets cases. It is RARE that I get a normal bone referral, less than 1%.
I am sure I am consulted in less than 1% of all ongoing cases (regarding SBS charges of child abuse).
There are easily 2,000 cases per year of fractures in infants since the 1980s.
50,000 cases is a reasonable estimate.
Florida Dad Wrongfully Convicted for Shaking Baby and Served 20+ Years of a 70 Year Sentence Featured on CNN
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is another allegation that we commonly see used as a reason to medically kidnap children. True Munchausen may exist, but it is extremely rare.
The vast majority of Medical Kidnap cases involving these allegations end up being cover-ups for vaccine injury or medical malpractice. As with Shaken Baby Syndrome, it is apparently easier to blame the parent than for doctors to admit that they are wrong.
The children of the parents who are wrongfully accused of Shaken Baby Syndrome or Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy frequently wind up in foster care. They shouldn’t be there. These children suffer the same trauma from being removed from their families as other foster children.
When Will We Put a Stop to This Destruction?
How much more evidence do we have to see before we finally wake up as a society and recognize that the way we are doing things that we thought was helping is not actually helping?
There are almost half a million American children in foster care at any given time. Many more have been in the system at some point during their childhood.
At what cost to our children?
At what point do we understand that the “good” stories and outcomes that we see from the foster care/forced adoption system are the exceptions and not the rule?
The late Senator Nancy Schaefer of Georgia fought to wake up the public to the reality that families were being harmed, not helped, by Child Protective Services and foster care.
She wrote a scathing report to Congress, “The Corrupt Business of Child Protective Services,” and she came to this conclusion:
I have witnessed such injustice and harm brought to these families that I am not sure if I even believe reform of the system is possible! The system cannot be trusted. It does not serve the people. It obliterates families and children simply because it has the power to do so. Children deserve better. Families deserve better. It’s time to pull back the curtain and set our children and families free.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9
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