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.

Amplifying Ferguson and Race in Child Welfare

One lesson from Ferguson for those of us who talk and write for a living is that now is (always) the time to amplify voices that normally are silenced. For those of us who work in child welfare, another lesson is that the children we work with have a social, historical, and political identity that is not amenable to rounds of individual therapy. So here are some readings from the #FergusonSyllabus that have to do with youth and families, shared from the list curated by Marcia Chatelain writing at  theatlantic.com and from sociologistsforjustice.org. I’ve added four suggestions for child welfare folks at the end. 

“A Talk to Teachers,” in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985
James Baldwin

Ferguson Killing Inspires Young Black Activists
Frederica Boswell, NPR

On Recognizing My White Privilege as a Parent in the Face of Ferguson
Elizabeth Broadbent, xoJane

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown
Chris Lehman, blog

What White Children Need to Know About Race
Ali Michad and Eleonora Bartoli, nais.org

Healing Days: A Guide For Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma
Susan Straus

How the Children of Birmingham Changed the Civil-Rights Movement
Lottie L. Joiner, The Daily Beast

“‘We have to make them feel us‘: Open Letters and Black Mothers’ Grief”
Emily Owens, African American Intellectual History blog

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
Beryl Satter

Noughts & Crosses
Malorie Blackman

Smoky Night
Eve Bunting and David Diaz

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?
Margaret Burroughs

I am Rosa Parks
Brad Meltzer

Ruth & the Green Book
Calvin Ramsey

Tar Beach
Faith Ringgold

As Fast As Words Could Fly
Pamela Tuck

The Skin You Live in
Michael Tyler

The Other Side
Jacqueline Woodson

Shining Star
Paula Yoo

U.S. Schools: Desegregation court cases and school demographic data
Brown University

Race and the Ferguson-Florissant School District
Shaun R. Harper and Charlee Davis, III, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson
Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic

Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this? ” Daniel Katz, blog

Michael Brown’s High School Is An Example Of The Major Inequalities In Education
Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Jonathan Kozol

Stepping over the Color Line: African-American Students in White Suburban Schools
Amy Stuart Wells and Robert L. Crane

How Does it Feel to be a Problem?
Relando Thompkins, blog

“Want to Help Marginalized Students in Schools? Stop “Stop and Frisk” and Other Punitive Practices, Too.” – Markus Gerke

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. 2014. “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review.” Available online:http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014-implicit-bias.pdf.

Ferguson, Ann. 2001. Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Especially chapter 4: Naughty by Nature. Google link: http://books.google.com/books/about/Bad_Boys.html?id=3YMDorLC-cQC)

Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. Dorothy Roberts.

“Prison, Foster Care, and the Systematic Punishment of Black Women.” Dorothy Roberts.

“Black Club Women and Child Welfare.” Dorothy Roberts.

“There is no Santa Clause — The Challenge of Teaching the Next Generation of Civil Rights Lawyers in a ‘Post-Racial’ Society.” Deborah N. Archer.

ICYMI: John Oliver on the American prison system — racist, stupid, and nothing but a business

This segment was serendipitous timing for the two incarceration opinions that I wrote about earlier this week. Watch it and then argue that a TPR ground based on length of incarceration should exist at all. 

I lost my legal innocence in law school on the day I learned that there is a private prison industry, that it has lobbyists, and that those lobbyists actively seek and successfully obtain stricter sentencing laws to keep more people incarcerated longer. We, as law students, then study the doctrines derived from those systems as though they were natural facts or logically required outcomes. They aren’t. Says John Oliver, “Just think about that: we now need adorable singing puppets to explain prison to children in the same way they explain number 7 or what the moon is.” Except the moon isn’t a horrible choice some people have made to hurt other people for profit. Unlike the moon, it’s also something we can change.

Addressing the Harm of Silence and Assumptions of Mutability

The article’s full title is Addressing the Harm of Silence and Assumptions of Mutability: Implementing effective non-discrimination policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in foster care, found here at SSRN.

This quote caught me:

Children walk the streets today because they were kicked out of a home that saw their struggle as a moral choice rather than a fact of their identity development.

Elvia R. Arriola, The Penalties for Puppy Love: Institutionalized Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth, 1 J. Gender Race & Just. 429, 440 (1998).

 

What I’m Reading: Parsing Parenthood

PARSING PARENTHOOD
Cynthia Godsoe Lewis & Clark Law Review (Approx. 62 pages)

The story public family law tells about parenthood is both inaccurate and normatively misguided. Parents are deemed “bad” because of their need for state support, and the parent-child relationship is accordingly devalued. This devaluation has resulted in costly and ineffective child welfare policies, embodied in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and related state laws. Child maltreatment costs an estimated $103.8 billion annually, yet its incidence is not decreasing. Thousands of youth “age out” of foster care each year as legal orphans, with no connection to a family and very poor prospects.

This Article explores the consequences of this flawed framework, including the failure to recognize the socioeconomic factors underlying most child maltreatment and the disregard for the real ties between parents and children after families are separated. It argues that child welfare policies will not succeed until the underlying parenthood framework changes; implicit cognitive biases channel even new interventions in a way that stigmatizes marginalized families and over-prioritizes adoption as a panacea. This Article concludes by considering some promising paths to remapping public parenthood, incorporating lessons from the public health preventive approach and from the private family law system’s disaggregation of parental rights and responsibilities.

What I’m Reading: Children’s Health Rights and Family Preservation

Mutcherson, Kimberly M. WHOSE BODY IS IT ANYWAY? AN UPDATED MODEL OF HEALTHCARE DECISION-MAKING RIGHTS FOR ADOLESCENTS, 14 Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 251 (2005).

 
Susan Stefan, ACCOMMODATING FAMILIES: USING THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT TO KEEP FAMILIES TOGETHER, 2 St. Louis U. J. Health L. & Pol’y 135 (2008).