Foster care adversely affects children in both the short term and the long term, new research from Sweden confirms.

Written by Christian Munthe, a bioethics professor at Gothenburg University, and eight additional researchers, the paper also calls on social care organisations around the world to systematically collect data about the effects and side effects of out-of-home placements for children.

The paper pulls together a substantial amount of research from Europe (including England) and the United States, in order to try to take a long term view of foster care and its impact on children.

The conclusions the researchers come to in the paper are damning.

Overall, 28 publications about 18 interventions, including 5,357 children, were identified, but only three interventions were sufficiently evidence-based.

Alarmingly, they also found that not one study had assessed the tools used for foster parent selection, or had evaluated pre-service programs related to outcomes.

They also discovered that hardly any study concluded that young adults who had grown up in foster care had better outcomes when compared to peers raised in ‘adverse’ birth family environments. 

Of those studies attempting to establish causal effects, the long-term developmental effects of out-of-home care seemed to be neutral at best. 

Analysis of foster care and its effect on children is severely limited, so it’s no surprise that the researchers chose to highlight the need to address this lack of evidence in their paper.

The study looked at four central questions:

  1. Are there instruments for foster parent selection that promote the children’s health and adaptive behaviour?
  2. Are there pre-service training programs targeting foster parents that promote children’s health and adaptive behaviour?
  3. Are there interventions targeting foster children and foster parents that promote children’s health and adaptive behaviour?
  4. Does foster care intervention in general promote children’s health and adaptive behaviour?
  5. What ethical challenges arise due to the state of the evidence base with regard to the Questions 1–4?

You can read the paper here.