Thematic Panel 11: Family Foster vs Institutional Care: The Achilles Heel of Out-of-Home Care for Children?

Teresa Martín García, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

An adverse childhood often results in children being placed in state custody, and these children are generally named as children in out-of-home care. Residential care is typically known as a group home or institutional care in which professional caregivers are responsible for the day-to- day care and well-being of these children. In contrast, family foster care encompasses figures of parents in private families who are entrusted with the care of these children (Li, Chng & Chu 2019). One or another care choice will permeate, in different forms and meanings, the entire life course of these children in out-of-home care. In general, foster care is found to benefit some children and be more beneficial for children than institutional care. In fact, it is a well-stylized fact that foster care is a crucial intervention to reduce the adverse effects following early deprivation and that children placed in family foster care show better-off later life behavioral and psychosocial outcomes as compared to those in residential homes.

While there is abundant social care and care policy research focusing on early childhood education and childcare, we know very little about children in out-of-home care. For instance, how practice and policy concerning substitute care for children have changed across historical time? How can they be foreseen in the future? We may be seeing evidence for a transition from systems being clearly dominated by residential care to others almost exclusively or heavily reliant on family placement (Ireland). Yet, the majority of the countries are in development and some even take a step back: in Spain, institutionalized children overcome those entering foster care since 2018.

Linked with the Conference theme (time and temporality), the aim of this panel is to critically analyze state custody in varying societal contexts and change across time with respect to the potentially (un)equal outcomes for children. We encourage contributions from around the world that investigate care practice and policy for children in out-of-home care, a question that has received scarce attention in care regimes analyses. Which placement type best serves a child as well as who is best suited to take care of a child? We encourage contributions that identify which aspects of residential care carry benefits and which carry risks. Special attention will also be paid to the associations between placement and child outcomes, which can vary as a function of the timing and duration of placement(s) and movements between them. We appreciate papers addressing care-related risks, policies and intervention over the life course to account for the accumulation of (dis)advantages and the specific needs of children in substitute care. Studies that compare short vs. medium and long-term outcomes for children who live in family foster and residential care settings are very welcome. So are those comparing their opportunities and outcomes to family-reared children.

Posted in Conference 2021, Thematic Panels.