So not surprisingly, studies find that most of the children in foster care have at least some signs of mental health problems. (Chernoff et al., 1994) Another group found that a psychiatric condition was diagnosed almost five times more in foster children than in other kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. (Baliver et al., 1999) These children not only have higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems, but these problems tend to be more serious and complicated than others of the same socioeconomic standing. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2002)
Conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and anxiety disorders are the most common conditions. (Osbeck, 2006) Foster children are more likely to have insecure and malfunctioning attachments than non-foster care children, which results in problematic long-term consequences. Foster children have higher rates of depression, difficulty with social skills, an inability to adapt to their environment, and greater externalizing behaviors such as aggression and impulsivity. (Jones-Harden, 2004) Children in orphanages or large-group foster care in particular have difficulty with attachment and displaying friendliness.
When another study compared foster care children to community samples of impoverished children, they found a higher rate of behavioral problems (up to 4 times that of the comparison group) and higher rates of developmental disorders, at a rate of up to 6-times that of the comparison group. (Leslie et al., 2003) As discussed earlier, low socioeconomic status is associated with numerous problems. (See chapter 33) On average, the additional stress and risk factors it creates result in more measurable adverse outcome than just about any particular type of abuse or neglect by itself. So this comparison is revealing. While each case is unique, and there are undoubtedly a very small number of children experiencing multiple forms of abuse or extremely horrific abuse who will improve from placement, it suggests that the harm created by removal is more severe than any one particular type of abuse or neglect on its own. So does removal actually help a child, or does it only add more hurt?
It seems unlikely removal does anything except add additional trauma. One study revealed that children in foster care for long periods of time still had as many problems or more as children coming into the system for the first time. (Carlson, 1996) Other studies report increases in mental health problems and psychopathology in foster care children, to as much as 48-80%. (Kools & Kennedy, 2003) All of this points to a major flaw in the approach currently taken to help children. What child protective services does is itself a form of child abuse, (a severe one at that), and it seems to offer little to no gains.
Of course, the standard excuse made by child welfare agencies is that “these children were already troubled to begin with,” and therefore, CPS should not be held accountable for the outcomes. Such an argument ignores two very pertinent truths:
1) These children aren’t just disturbed, but studies repeatedly show them to be more disturbed than any other group of children, including those from abusive or disadvantaged backgrounds. This seems to indicate a profound mechanism of injury that is unique to the foster care system and process of removal. Further, every principle of child development and child psychology would lead us to expect profound injury from such an experience. To ignore this or to gloss over the injury is to show complete disregard for every principle of child development, not to mention the children in care.
2) CPS removes children under the guise of providing a better environment. To say that children were already troubled to begin with ignores the responsibility CPS has to provide a substantially better environment than what the children had before. If removal worked, studies should reveal foster kids to improve and have problems at a rate comparable to their well-cared-for peers. Instead, not only do we see ABSOLUTELY NO MARKED IMPROVEMENT in all areas of welfare outcomes which matter, but we see more disturbances than among other disadvantaged children. If the state’s only claim for removal is keeping kids just as screwed up as they might have turned out before, then they have no business taking them away in the first place.