Every child deserves the best start in life, yet for many, this is just not possible. When the care system intervenes, it does so for the long term benefit of the child. What effect does foster care in particular, have on the individual? What kind of adults is the system preparing? In this article we’ll take a look at some of the evidence surrounding these questions, and try and discover the long term prognosis.
The outcome of care
According to the Psychologist, children in care are “four times more likely than others to require the help of mental health services; nine times more likely to have special needs requiring assessment, support or therapy; seven times more likely to misuse alcohol or drugs; 50 times more likely to wind up in prison; 60 times more likely to become homeless; and 66 times more likely to have children needing public care (Jackson & Simon, 2005)”.
However, these sobering figures do not reflect the whole story. Evidence gathered by Barnardos suggests that care can be a positive experience and some children fair better than others. The length of time a child is exposed to issues prior to coming into care can have a huge effect on long-term outcomes.
Before they came to care
Although research indicates that children placed in foster care are more likely to have a compromised development than children who have never experienced fostering, many experts believe this is not down to the foster care itself. Instead they think it is due to the poor experiences the child has been exposed to prior to entering foster care. So is fostering playing its part in improving the outlook for these children?
Foster care can have a constructive effect on children, compared to other forms of social care. A study completed by the University of Oxford and the University of Bristol outlined in the Independent evidenced that foster children do better at school than children in other types of social care. The longer they are in foster care, the better they do. The young people involved said this was because they felt they had a safe and secure place to study.
Long term outlooks
Foster care can be a better option than remaining at home for some children. According to a review by York University, the majority of foster children go on to live happy and healthy lives, and are generally positive about the experience. When questioned, foster children prefer foster care to residential care, given the option.
This review also states that the “key to successful foster care lies in recruiting, training and supporting good foster carers”, suggesting that all foster homes are not equal. This is ultimately down to the agency or local authority that supports the carer.
Although those in foster care generally have to face up to adult responsibilities on their own at an earlier age, long-term follow up shows that any difficulties experienced when first leaving care settles down. It’s estimated that probably only a third face long-term issues.
Well-known personalities such as Steve Jobs, Cher and Marilyn Monroe spent time in care as children, yet still went on to achieve great things. The care system may have its imperfections, but fostering in particular is often preferable to the alternatives, such as remaining in abusive homes. Fostering is in place to provide a stable and secure environment to vulnerable children. By providing this, carers are also helping looked-after children achieve success, which may have not been possible in other circumstances.