Erik Knorth, James Anglin and Hans Grietens
Placing children in out-of-home care occurs relatively often, especially
when taking its ‘drastic’ nature into consideration (cf. Schwartz, 1991).
Ten years ago, its percentage in the 12 EU countries amounted to 0.56% of
the total number of minors (Knorth, 1998). More recent data yield
percentages that fluctuate between 0.5% (UK) and 0.7% (Germany) of the
current population of minors. A comparable percentage (0.7%) can be found
in the USA (Knorth, 2003). Placing children in out-of-home care means that,
for a shorter or longer period of time, they will be placed in a social
environment other than that in which the upbringing normally would take
place: their own birth family. It involves an alternative residence where
24/7 aroundthe-clock care is being offered. This can crystallize into two
modes:placement in a family context: the child lands in a family foster care
setting; placement in a group context: the child lands in a residential care
setting. Placing children in out-of-home care has a tremendous impact, both
on the young persons themselves (Eagle, 1994) and on the remaining members
of the family (Jenkins & Norman, 1972). Such an intervention only takes
place when the situation at home is threatening to the child’s development
and growth or when his or her functioning poses such a problem to the
parents or society, that a continued stay at home is no longer desirable nor
possible. In other words: there is no longer a good `fit’ between the child
and his or her family.
This is one side of the coin. Opposed to the negative perspective of ‘the situation at home is an intolerable one’, also a positive perspective can be considered, in particular that out-ofhome care involves an intervention with the intended purpose of letting the development of the child and the family take a favourable turn, in order to create new developmental opportunities (cf. e.g., Colton, Roberts, & Williams, 2002).
This last view was elaborated by, for instance, June Thoburn (1994, 2002). In this context, she took as a starting point the needs that are to be met in order for a child to achieve a positive development, namely:
protection from serious injury;
In addition there are two special concerns for children who are separated from their parents and who are looked after by child and youth care agencies. These are that
a sense of permanence; and
a sense of identity.
Permanence means experiencing security, belonging, family life, being loved and having opportunities to love. Identity means knowing about birth family and past relationships, fitting the present with the past, having appropriate contact with important people from the past, and being valued as the person you are. Experiencing a sense of permanence and a sense of identity constitute the basis of a child’s self-esteem, the main condition for growth and development.
The question that follows, according to Thoburn, is how the new living situation of a child can be organised in such a way that the aforementioned developmental conditions can be achieved at optimum. This, in fact, brings us to the issue of ‘good practices’ (or ‘good enough practices’, cf. Anglin, 2002) in relation to out-of-home care. The question is which components of a foster care setting or a residential setting have a wholesome effect on the development of children, and whom it affects (cf. Van der Ploeg, 1984).
Knorth, E.J., Anglin, J. and Grietens, H. (2003).
Out-of-home care: Practice and research between head and tail.
International Journal of Child & Family Welfare 6(4), pp.126-132
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