Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

Child Welfare Placements and Child Functioning: Do Maltreated Children Who Remain with Maltreating Parents Function Better Than Those Who Are Placed?

Ferol E. Mennen, PhD, University of Southern California and Penelope Trickett, PhD, University of Southern California.

Purpose: Current child welfare trends favor keeping maltreated children with their parents rather than placing them in foster or kin placements. This decision assumes that children remaining in the home can function better than those who go into alternative placements. We sought to learn whether maltreated children who remain at home were functioning better than their maltreated peers who went into placement.

Methods: This study will report findings on a racially diverse sample of 302 maltreated children taken from a larger longitudinal study of the effects of maltreatment on adolescent development. Children were referred by the Los Angeles County Department of Children Services from selected zip codes in urban Los Angeles County. All had a substantiated case of maltreatment. The children were 9-12 years (X=10.85, s.d.=1.15), 50% male, with a racial ethnic breakdown of African American (40.5%), Latino (35.1%), White (11.6%), and biracial (12.9%). The majority of the children remained with their biological parent(s) (54.3%); the remainder were in foster homes (24.5%) and relative placement (21.2%). Measures of functioning for this study were the Children's Depression Inventory (Kovacs, 1992), The Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (March, 1997), The Self Perception Profile for Adolescents (Harter, 1988), the Family Environment Scale (Moos & Moos, 1981), the Aggressive and Delinquent subscales of the Youth Self Report (Achenbach, 1991). Caretakers completed the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991) and the Columbia Impairment Scale (Bird, et al., 1993). Clinical cut points were used to determine which children met clinical levels of symptoms. Scores on the measures of functioning were compared by group through ANOVA.

Results: The child's placement was not related to age, gender, or ethnicity. Sixty four percent of the maltreated children had at least one measure that was in the clinical range indicating a possible need for mental health services and this did not differ by placement. Nor were there any differences by placement on any of the measures of functioning or in the children's view of their families. In contrast to our expectations, children remaining with their parents had scores on all measures that indicated lower levels of functioning, although not at a statistically significant level.

Implications for Research and Practice: These results do not support our hypothesis that children remaining with parents are less distressed than those who are placed outside the home. The children remaining with their maltreating parents had levels of functioning similar to those who had been placed with nearly two thirds of the children with clinical levels of symptoms. This is a cause for concern since previous research has indicated that these children are less likely to receive mental health services and their families less likely to receive child welfare services. Focus on safety as the primary issue in deciding placement may obscure the needs of children who remain with maltreating parents. Services need to target these children as well as their maltreating parents.