A Stolen Gen 7: Preservation Not Removal


Part 7

Preservation Not Removal the Answer

The Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Report[1] stated that evidence has shown that “early intervention programs – when well designed and resourced – can be an effective method of improving outcomes … including reducing the risk of child abuse and neglect”. And further “can be a more cost-effective investment in the long term than later interventions”.  Stakeholders provided near unanimous support of the use of early intervention to support vulnerable children, young people and their FAMILIES.  Indeed the consensus was that it provided

The best gains for vulnerable children and the whole community by reducing the need for the government to continue to grow investment in statutory child protection services.[2]

This would be a saving not only in economical costs: estimated child abuse and neglect occurring in Victoria for the first time in 2009-10 is between $1.6 and $1.9 billion,[3] but the social costs as outlined by Commissioner Carmody, included in Part 6.

Kids who can remain in their ‘dysfunctional’ homes do better than in foster care

Foster care is a very dangerous place.  Other studies indicate that only ONE out of FIVE children in foster care become productive citizens. One third of foster youth reported some type of  abuse while in the foster care system. By the age of 19 nearly 50% of young women in foster care have been pregnant compared to 20% of their non-foster care peers, and 30% have been arrested compared to the national average of about 7%.    22% of former foster youth experience homelessness, 57% are unemployed.[4]  Commonly diagnosed mental disorders are social phobia: 17%; panic syndrome: 15% and generalised anxiety disorder: 12 %.  Foster care youth are four times more likely to be subjected to abuse or neglect than youth that remained in their supposedly ‘dysfunctional’ families. 3 in 10 of the nation’s homeless adults report foster care history.[5]  58% of all young adults accessing federally funded youth shelters in 1997 have previously been in the foster care system.[6]  In short children placed in the care of strangers are far more likely to be in the juvenile system, pregnant or unemployed and  homeless,[7]  than those who remained with families purported to be dysfunctional. These facts were supported by a 2007 study that found that children whose families are investigated for abuse or neglect, but whose children are not removed do better in life than if they go into foster care. [8] A data linkage study of 45,000 Illinois child protection cases compared children at similar risk level where some were placed in foster care and others remained at home.  School aged children on the margin of placement who remained at home had lower adult arrest rates, lower teen pregnancy rates and better employment than those placed in foster care.[9]

Researcher Joseph Doyle, an economics professor who studies social policy, was impressed at how much better children did that remained in their supposedly dysfunctional homes: “The size of the effects surprised me, because all the children come from tough families”.  Doyle’s research traced 15,000 kids from 1990 to 2002, and is the largest study to look at the effects of foster care and compare it with children from at risk families.  Doyle’s and another study done by Mark Courtney, from the University of Chicago, showed that the 500,000 children in US foster care are more likely than other kids, and that included children from at risk families,  to drop out of school, join welfare, commit crimes, abuse drugs, become teen parents and end up part of the homeless population.[10]

In another study over half the foster youth alumni surveyed had mental health problems and of these 25% had post-traumatic stress disorder versus 4% of the population. 20% experienced major depression, versus 10% of the population.[11]  Nearly 20% of young prison inmates and 28% of homeless individuals spent some time in foster care.[12]  Two thirds of boys and half of the girls who age out of foster care have a history of delinquency.  The group were three times more likely to have mental health needs and four times more likely to have been treated for a sexually transmitted disease compared to the national average.[13]  Doyle’s research shows that this holds true even when foster kids are compared with other disadvantaged youth. He states than an abusive family environment is harmful, but removing a child is traumatic and that is harmful in itself.[14]  To then be placed in foster care with strangers with its inherent higher risk of abuse leads to very poor outcomes for children and increased social problems.  Doyle’s study provides “the first viable, empirical evidence” of the benefits of keeping kids with their families. He states: “Our research supports family preservation”.[15]

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, stated: “Children do better with their own families than in foster care. But instead of helping families deal with the issues of poverty and substandard living conditions they have a “take the child and run mentality”. He went on to say that nearly 60% were in care because of neglect.  Neglect is defined as the failure of the parent to provide for the basic needs or provide a safe and sanitary living environment. Wexler explains that is the perfect definition of poverty and “confusion of poverty with neglect is the single biggest problem in American child welfare”.

Homeless parents who report a history of foster care are almost twice as likely to have their own children placed in foster care as are homeless people  who were never in foster care. People with a foster care history tend to become homeless at an earlier age than those who do not have a foster care history and childhood placement in foster care can correlate with a substantial increase in the length of a person’s homeless experience. Youngsters emancipated from foster care often lack the independent living skills that would allow them to establish a household. A 2006 study recommended for the sake of the children:

A better job must be done of supporting and strengthening families  (particularly those in crisis) in order to keep them out of the foster care system and the service and housing needs of homeless parents with a foster care history should be met so that their stability is promoted and their own children are not placed in foster care. Extraordinary steps should be taken to avoid placing children in foster care solely because of their parents homelessness. Other measures (such as housing, employment and/or training, and services) should be taken, first”[16]

In Australia the organisation CREATE’s campaign, known as: What’s the Plan? Has been driven by successive groups of young people who have been concerned about the significant risk of adverse experiences (such as homelessness, unemployment and involvement in the criminal justice system) faced by people who have been in care.[17] In response to Bronwyn Bishop’s drive to bring back Forced Adoption, Professor Dorothy Scott concludes: “Early intervention, not removal is the answer”.[18] Clearly there are many academics, sections of the media and various concerned individuals and organisations who are not going to sit idly by and let Minister Goward, Premier O’Farrell and Prime Minister Toby Abbott create yet another stolen generation.[19]

[1] Cummings, P. Scott, D. & Scales, B. (2012). Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, VolI.  at 3.5 http://www.childprotectioninquiry.vic.gov.au/images/stories/inquiry/volume1/cpi%207649%20web-pdf%20volume%201%20protecting%20victoria_s%20vulnerable%20children_%20inquiry_bm.2.pdf

[2] Cummings, P. Scott, D. & Scales, B. (2012). Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry, Vol 2, Part 4, Chapter 8,  at p. 177 http://www.childprotectioninquiry.vic.gov.au/images/stories/inquiry/volume2/cpi%207650%20web-pdf%20volume%202%20protecting%20victorias%20vulnerable%20children%20inquiry_ch_8_bm.pdf

[3] Ibid, p. xxvi.

[4] National Council on Disability. (2008, Feb 26).  Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions

[5] ibid

[6] Data from an unpublished study, cited in Breaking the Foster Care – Homelessness Connection @ Safety Network: The Newsletter of the National Coalition for the Homeless, September – October 1998 cited on the Child Welfare League of America webpage

[7] Children First Advocacy: Keeping Children & Families Together  http://www.childrenfirstadvocacy.com/

[8] Koch, W. (2007, July 3). ‘Troubled homes better than foster’, USA Today, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-07-02-foster-study_N.htm

[9] Doyle, (2007) ‘Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care;, American Economic Review, 97(5), 1583-1610; Scott, D. ‘Fragile Families: Handle with Care, Australian Centre for Child Protection, University of South Australia http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/childhood/professionals/profdev/dscottfragilefamilies.ppt

[10] ibid

[11] National Council on Disability. (2008, Feb 26).  Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions

[12] Pecora, P. Williams, J. Kessler, R. Downs, C., O’Brien, K,  Hiripi, E. & Morello, S. (2003). Accessing the Effects of Foster Care: Early Results from the Casey national Alumni Study’, The Foster Care Alumni Studies,  http://www.casey.org/Resources/Publications/pdf/CaseyNationalAlumniStudy_FullReport.pdf

[13] Doyle, J. (2007). ‘Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care’, Forthcoming, American Economic Review, http://www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_fosterlt_march07_aer.pdf  MITnews. (2007, July 3). ‘Kids gain more from family than foster care’, http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/sloan-fostercare-study-0703.html  at pp. 1-2

[14] ibid

[15] Doyle, J. (2007). ‘Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care’, Forthcoming, American Economic Review, http://www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_fosterlt_march07_aer.pdf  MITnews. (2007, July 3). ‘Kids gain more from family than foster care’, http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2007/sloan-fostercare-study-0703.html

[16] Roman, N. P. & Wolfe, N. (1995). Web of failure: The relationship between foster care and homelessness.  National Alliance to End Homelessness http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/web-of-failure-the-relationship-between-foster-care-and-homelessness

[17] CREATE Foundation. . (2012, Sept)  Submission to the  Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry (p. 3) http://www.create.org.au/files/file/Research/CREATE_Submission_CommissionofInquiry_Sept2012.pdf

[18] Scott, D. (2007, Dec 18). ‘Children need protection from the grassroots up’, http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/children-need-protection-from-the-grassroots-up/2007/12/17/1197740178867.html?page=2ildren need protection from the grassroots up

[19] Anna Patty, ( 2013, Nov 28). ‘Another stolen generation looms, warns protesters, SMH. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/another-stolen-generation-looms-warn-protesters-20131128-2yctl.html ; Kirsty Needham, (2013, Nov 24), ‘ ‘History must not repeat in adoption laws’, SMH, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/history-must-not-repeat-in-adoption-laws-20131123-2y2fx.html ; “Representatives of 25 organisations across the state have written to Family and Community Services Pru Goward to warn her of concerns that proposed changes to adoption laws, which may include the forced removal of some children, could unfairly affect vulnerable and disadvantaged families”. See:

Anna Patty, (2013, Nov 11), ‘Adoption changes could create new stolen generation say community groups’, SHM, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/adoption-changes-could-create-new-stolen-generation-say-community-groups-20131110-2x9vc.html


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