We don’t know enough about peer violence in foster homes

An article this month in Child & Family Social Work looks at the scant amount of research on peer violence in foster homes.

Whilst evidence on peer abuse in residential settings is limited even less is known regarding peer abuse in foster care. Although no specific research has been undertaken, work by some (e.g. Farmer & Pollock 1998) indicates the issue of peer abuse is as salient in these settings as in the residential context. Many of the specific dynamics associated with abuse in residential settings, including peer cultures, are either absent or very different in relation to foster care placements. The populations of children in foster and residential care also vary considerably by age and care histories. In addition, the ‘family’ situation of foster care holds unique characteristics and risk factors not present in residence. The relative isolation of young people in foster care from other looked-after children means that the nature of peer abuse may be different. These differences highlight the importance of considering the distinctiveness of peer violence experiences in foster care. In addition, foster families’ own children may be vulnerable to victimization from looked-after children (Höjer et al. 2013). The manifestation and experiences of peer violence in foster care are particularly relevant within a policy context that favours family-based care and a resulting reduction in the use of residential care since the 1970s (Berridge et al. 2012).

We know, because our clients tell us, that peer violence happens too frequently in foster homes. Violence often goes unreported by children and youth for a wide range of reasons, including fear of not being believed, fear of retaliation, and fear of placement disruption to a potentially worse situation. Some foster parents likewise fail to seek help for peer violence in their homes for fear of losing their license or being perceived as unable to care for children appropriately. The result is a culture that minimizes problems for the sake of preserving appearances, until the problems are too egregious to ignore.

The article offers several policy implications:

  • There should be a focus on identifying children and young people who are or have been involved in negative peer interactions including ways of reporting that are accessible by young people. This identification should lead to appropriate responses and support for these young people.
  • The careful placement and supervision of the instigators of peer violence in foster care is required as there may be risks posed to other children and young people in the placement and to placement stability.
  • Placements of children and young people who have instigated peer violence need to be effectively supported including support for the fostered young people and other children within the placement (including children of foster carers), and support and training for foster carers to manage this behaviour.
  • Research is needed about the full extent of all forms of exploitation and violence that are experienced and instigated by young people in foster care, the circumstances in which it takes place, the young people who are more likely to be affected and its co-occurrence with other difficulties. Research should also focus on the neglected area of children and young people’s perspectives.

Lutman, E., and Barter, C. (2016) Peer violence in foster care: a review of the research evidence.Child & Family Social Work, doi: 10.1111/cfs.12284.

Florida Supreme Court lifts stay on SIJ cases, agrees to hear TPR case

The Florida Supreme Court last week lifted the stay on two private petition cases out of the Third DCA: KBLV and BYGM. The Florida Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in OICL, a case involving a child in the physical custody of an uncle who sought a dependency adjudication based on the uncle’s lack of legal custodianship. In contrast, the two new cases involve children in the custody of their mothers who sought dependency adjudications based on abandonment by their fathers. The children argue that without the adjudication of dependency, they will be returned to the care of their fathers and thus will be at risk of harm.

The Court simultaneously stayed two other cases which were decided by the Third in December 2015: EPN and BRCM.  These cases involve children in the custody of a mother and a godmother, respectively. Both cases drew lengthy dissents from Judge Salter.

The Florida Supreme Court has also agreed to review, without oral argument, the case of S.M. v. the Department of Children & Families. This case arises from a termination of parental rights. The mother was originally accused of neglect, and appears to have had an ongoing marijuana dependency and lack of employment. The children were placed with the mother’s relatives. The mother argues that termination was not the “least restrictive means” of protecting the children from harm where relatives were available and there was no allegation that her continued contact with the children posed any risk of harm. The Fourth DCA found that the existence of a relative placement was not sufficient to defeat a termination of parental rights.

Reading these cases side by side, it’s hard not to notice the incongruous rulings. In one set of cases, the rights to a child could be terminated even if the child was safely in a relative placement; but in the other set, the child could not even be adjudicated dependent because  of the relative and non-relative placements. In the first set, the child will have ongoing safety due to a court order. In the second set, the child will be all but guaranteed to return to danger because of the failure to enter a court order. I leave it to the reader to craft some clever logic to reconcile the two outcomes. It appears to me that immigration status is the major distinguishing feature.

Florida Supreme Court hears immigrant juvenile’s dependency appeal

The Florida Supreme Court heard the case of OICL v. Department of Children & Families today. From Gavel to Gavel:

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Click the image or here for video. 


View Related Transcript (PDF) [still pending as of the time this was posted]


Summary: Palm Beach County — A Guatemalan teenager who entered the United States in early 2014 was released by immigration officials to his uncle in Palm Beach County. The boy filed a petition, alleging he had been abandoned by his mother in his home country and asking to be ruled a dependent child. The trial court denied the petition and the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld that ruling. The boy asked this Court to review, citing conflicts with other District Courts of Appeal.