An Examination of the Connection Between Foster Care and Development
As the foster care system in the United States is ever growing and expanding, one must remember the significance of the child’s development. According to research, it can be shown that the foster system allows development to be achieved to a high degree. With kinship being the only form of care that sees developmental results higher, it can be seen that the foster care system is improving in the right direction.
An Examination of the Connection Between Foster Care and Development
Today in the United States, one can see an increase in the number of children that are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social Services. As of the year 2000, there were more than 500,000 children in the foster care system (insert Developmental Issues citation). At first glance, there are many individuals that express concern about those in the system. They may express concern in the amount of love the child is being given, how they are being taken care of in both emotional and physical manners, and whether or not the situation is better than the one they were in before. However, it is relatively uncommon to see these individuals also concerned about the child’s developmental growth. Foster care can take place, for most children, during the most influential developmental years of their lives. It is just as significant to care about the cognitive and social development of a child as it is to care about the fact that they are being loved and cared for. These issues go hand in hand with one another and are both essential factors towards the end result that everyone should desire: the child emerging from the system better than they would have been if they had never entered it.
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Before looking into specific case studies, it is important to be aware of what the possible developmental issues can be during a child’s time in foster care. According to a journal by the Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care, there are four important developmental issues to consider when examining individuals (insert Developmental Issues citation). Those four issues are: “1) the implications and consequences of abuse, neglect, and placement in foster care on early brain development; 2) the importance and challenges of establishing a child’s attachment to caregivers; 3) the importance of considering a child’s changing sense of time in all aspects of the foster care experience; and 4) the child’s response to stress” (insert Developmental Issues citation).
This study discusses the idea that during the first three to four years of life, the parts of the brain that specifically govern personality, learning abilities, and coping mechanisms are being developed. This time period is significant because the system has recently begun trying to be involved in the early intervention process. This means that most children will be entering the system around the time that their brains are in their most heightened point of development.
At the end of the study, they concluded that the best form of treatment to ensure that a child’s development stays on track is to complete a comprehensive assessment of each child (insert Developmental Issues citation). They instructed that these assessments should be completed after each of the individual’s placements. The reason for this is because a child could grow very well in one home but may not in another. This also allows the researchers to have a more consistent data to understand the child’s overall development over an extended period of time. While it is true that there are specific time areas when brain development is extremely significant, it is also true that the brain is consistently developing and being affected by its surroundings.
The study advised that the following areas of development should be consistently tested in each assessment: gross and fine motor skills, speech and language functions, cognition, the child’s emotional well-being, their abilities to help themselves and cope with situations, the ability to form relationships, and their overall behavior (insert Developmental Issues citation). The organization also noted that it was important to make note of the treatment patterns of the foster parents themselves, which can have a large influence on a child’s development.
To look into the specific affects that foster care can have on a child’s development, it is beneficial to look at a true case study. The Bucharest Early Intervention Program case study conducted by Fox, Almas, Degnan, Nelson, and Zeanah is a prominent example of this. The study was conducted to examine what the effects of early intervention for a child could have on their developmental growth (insert Bucharest citation #1). The overall goal of this lengthy study was to examine the changes that can be found in an individual when they have lived extended time in institutional care. The first segment was conducted when the children were 8 years old and specifically examined the psychological deprivation they experienced, which impacted their cognitive development. The second part of the study published four years later, examined the IQ scores of the individuals previously examined to see the impact that early intervention would have on their cognitive development (insert Bucharest citation #2).
The first section of the study was conducted in 2011 with 187 children in Romania’s foster care system (insert Bucharest citation #1). During this study, they examined the children’s initial personality characteristics, the amount of time that they had experienced depravation, their IQ score and IQ development, their relationship and level of attachment with their care giver, and their language skills. The results of the study confirmed that when a child is placed into an early intervention program that takes them out of their poor home life and into foster care, an increase can be found in their IQ score and overall cognitive development. Even more specifically, those living in foster care were granted a stability in their development, while those that were in government funded institutions- such as group homes, would experience random spikes in advancement.
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The second portion of the study was conducted between 2015 and 2016, when most of the 187 children were around the age of 12 (insert Bucharest citation #2). The main goal of this part of research was to examine if there was a consistent increase in the child’s cognitive and emotional development when they remained in foster care for an extended period of time. By the end of the study, the authors could confirm that those who were placed in foster care excelled rapidly in IQ and Verbal Comprehension testing versus those who remained in government funded programs. The key to this process, they believed, is the idea of early intervention. Typically, when a child experiences early intervention they are receiving less of an impact from severe psychosocial depravation. It is this idea that allows the child to begin to development on a more normal and stable track, simply by being placed into foster care earlier in life.
The importance of this combined study is that foster care can encourage normal and progressive development on psychosocial and cognitive levels. If these children had remained in government funded facilities, such as a group home, they would have seen little to no development. This supports the fact that foster care, when the correct guardian and placement, can not only encourage consistent development, but can allow them to excel.
Development in Foster Care Compared to Other Caregiving Areas
Even though the Bucharest Early Intervention Program study proved that foster care was a better environment for development than other government funded facilities, it is also important to note that their other environmental options that can hold an even greater impact. According to Bramlett, Radel, and Chow, the best condition to experience developmental growth is kinship care (insert Kinship citation). Kinship care is simply like foster care, but instead of being cared for by a stranger, the child is cared for by a family member. The study concludes that with an actual family member filling the now present gap of the child’s parent(s), an environment is created that encourages development. Instead of being taken away from everything they know, even the simple idea of being with kin allows them to continue to develop on a normal track. In fact, in most cases, the child may even develop faster because they are in a better environment than when they were with their biological parents.
While all of the studies talked about above were able to prove that there is usually a positive correlation between development and the foster care system, it is important to remember that this is not always the case. For many years in the past, and unfortunately still to this day on certain levels, there are foster homes that treat children extremely poorly. It is in these areas that a child’s serious lack of development can be identified. This is just another reason why the screening of potential foster parents should become a deeper and more precise process. Not only is the emotional well-being of the child in jeopardy, but their overall cognitive development could be at risk as well.
In conclusion, the foster care system usually has a positive impact on individual’s cognitive and emotional development. While it is always possible that there could be a bad guardian that puts a hinderance on a child’s development, it is much more likely that the child will experience not just typical growth, but exponential growth. Even though kinship care allows the greatest room for development, the foster care system still does a good job of providing the space for these children to grow and develop correctly. It is different studies like those listed in this review that should continue to be conducted so that the system can continue to better itself for the sake of its members.
- Almas, A. N., Degnan, K. A., Nelson, C. A., Zeanah, C. H., & Fox, N. A. (2016). IQ at age 12 following a history of institutional care: Findings from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Developmental Psychology, 52(11), 1858–1866. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000167
- Bramlett, M. D., Radel, L. F., & Chow, K. (2017). Health and well-being of children in kinship care: Findings from the National Survey of Children in Nonparental Care. Child Welfare, 95(3), 41–60. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pbh&AN=126410663&site=ehost-live&scope=site
- Developmental issues for young children in foster care. (2000). Pediatrics, 106(5), 1145–1150. Retrieved from
- Fox, N. A., Almas, A. N., Degnan, K. A., Nelson, C. A., & Zeanah, C. H. (2011). The effects of severe psychosocial deprivation and foster care intervention on cognitive development at 8 years of age: Findings from the Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Journal of Child Psychology And Psychiatry, And Allied Disciplines, 52(9), 919–928. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2010.02355.x
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