Analysis of Child Development Research with Intervention or Policy Implications: The Effect of Foster Care on a Child’s Cognitive and Behavioral Abilities
PAPER ONE: Cognitive, educational and self-support outcomes of long-term foster care versus adoption. A Swedish national cohort study
The purpose of the study was to compare the outcomes of youth in long-term foster care with a group of children who entered into foster care and were subsequently adopted before reaching the age of 7 (Vinnerljung & Hjern 2011). Previous research conducted by Bohman and Sigvardsson found that at the age of 15, foster children who had been adopted performed as well in school as their peers who had never entered foster care. Children who were still in foster care had poorer grades and more behavioral problems. This gave the first implication that differences in child rearing environments are a strong factor in the positive or negative development of a child. The study consisted of a sample of 3,951 Swedish children born between 1972 and 1981. Each child entered care before the age of 7, and they were tested periodically until age 26. Of these children, 899 were adopted before the age of 7, and 3,062 grew up in foster care for more than 12 years (before aging out of the program at the age of 18). Adopted children spent an average of 1.6 years in foster care before adoption, while long-term foster care children spent an average of 16 years in care. The control group consisted of (consensus) data collected from 900,418 children who were never adopted or in foster care. These groups were adjusted for confounding variables, such as parental mental health problems and substance abuse before and/or after birth, as well as for age at entry into care. The outcomes were measured by an intelligence test that consisted of four subtests: logical, spatial, verbal, and technical capabilities. The scores ranged from 1-9, with 5 being average and a higher score indicating a higher cognitive competence. Both experimental groups had weaker outcomes compared to the control population, but foster children measured lower than adopted children in school performance, educational achievement, self-support capability, and cognitive competence. Children who were adopted at ages 4-6 showed improvements in cognitive ability over time, and by their late teens typically scored closely to their non-adopted or fostered peers. Negative outcomes were found to be far more likely for those in long-term foster care, regardless of gender, while adopted children had more favorable outcomes for school performance, cognitive test scores, educational achievement, and reliance on public welfare. Foster children had, on average, lower grades and cognitive abilities. Half of fostered boys had very low or incomplete grades from primary school, compared to 1/3 of adopted boys and 1/5 of the control population boys. For girls, the data was 1/3, 1/6, and 1/12. Attrition rates for grades at the age of 16 were the following: 13.4% for long-term foster care children, 4.3% for adopted children, and 2.4% for non-fostered or adopted children. By the age of 25, around 30% of fostered boys and 25% of fostered girls had only received a primary education. This is three times that of the control population, and twice that of the adoptees. Similarly, more fostered children were dependent on welfare at age 25 than children of the control group or adopted children.
PAPER TWO: Developmental outcomes after five years for foster children returned home, remaining in care, or adopted
Similar to the first, this study compared the developmental outcomes of children who entered into foster care as infants and either returned home, were adopted, or remained in foster care long-term. The first years of a child’s life are critical for proper development, particularly because younger children are more easily influenced and have the highest levels of brain plasticity (Llyod & Barth, 2011)....
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