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Child Abuse Negl. 2000 Oct;24(10):1363-74.

Children and youth in foster care: distangling the relationship between problem behaviors and number of placements.

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Department of Sociology, California State University, Child and Adolescent Health Services Research Center, San Diego, CA, USA.



The purpose of this research was to provide a prospective look at the relationship between change in placement and problem behaviors over a 12-month period among a cohort of foster children.


The sample contained 415 youth, and was part of a larger cohort of children who entered foster care in San Diego, California and remained in placement for at least 5 months. The Child Behavior Check List was used to assess behavior problems. Every change of placement during the first 18 months after entry into the foster care system was abstracted from case records.


The results suggest that volatile placement histories contribute negatively to both internalizing and externalizing behavior of foster children, and that children who experience numerous changes in placement may be at particularly high risk for these deleterious effects. Initial externalizing behaviors proved to be the strongest predictor of placement changes for the entire sample and for a sub-sample of those who initially evidenced problem behaviors on at least one broad-band CBCL scale. Our findings also suggest that children who initially score within normal ranges on the CBCL may be particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of placement breakdowns.


On the basis of these findings we argue for an analytical approach that views behavior problems as both a cause and as a consequence of placement disruption. Children who do not evidence behavior problems may in fact constitute a neglected population that responds to multiple disruptions of their primary relationships with increasingly self-defeating behaviors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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