Thursday, June 4, 2009

The evidence is in - again

    It's long been known that children left in their own homes whose families receive lots of help to stay together tend to do better than comparably-maltreated children thrown into foster care. Given what we know about foster care, common sense says as much, but there's also a wealth of research. Some of that research is discussed in NCCPR's Issue Papers, particularly Issue Papers 1, 10 and 11.

But nearly two years ago, a researcher at MIT took the research a giant step further. He released the definitive study comparing outcomes of children placed in foster care to comparably-maltreated children left in their home who did not get any special help. The study of 15,000 cases focused not on extreme cases but on those that typically dominate workers caseloads; what I have come to call the "in-between cases." The result: The children left in their own homes were less likely to get pregnant as teenagers, less likely to get in trouble with the law as juveniles – and more likely to be able to get and hold a job. Our detailed analysis of the study is available here. The full study can be found here. (A second study, by University of Minnesota researchers, using different outcome measures came up with the same results – the children left in their own homes did better.)

Last week, Prof. Matthew Fraidin of the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clarke School of Law pointed out to me that the same MIT researcher is out with another study. This time he was able to examine 23,000 cases, to determine which children were more likely to be arrested as adults, the foster children or comparably-maltreated children left in their own homes. Once again, the children left in their own homes did better.

Just imagine how much less foster care there'd be if all the people who throw around the big buzzword in child welfare "evidence-based" really meant it