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CSC Research News Update: Foster Care and Child Mental Health

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The mission of the FCCMHP is to increase scientific knowledge about the effects of the foster placement experience. Since 2000 the FCCMHP has developed collaboratives with the NYC Administration for Children's Services and over 25 NYCity-wide foster care agencies. Results of the following FCCMHP projects have been recently published:

  • A Promising Parenting Intervention in Foster Care—Co Parenting
    The effectiveness of a two-component family intervention for biological and foster parent pairs to improve their parenting and co parenting practices, their child's behavior problems, and the stability of the foster home was evaluated during 2001-2004. Parents of primarily neglected children (ages 3 to 10 years) placed in regular foster homes received a 12-week parenting course and attended a newly developed co parenting component to promote communication and consistency in parenting between the bioparent and foster parent.

    Significant gains were found in positive parenting and supportive co parenting for parent pairs who received the training intervention compared to parents in the control group. At follow up, intervention parents sustained greater improvement in positive parenting, showed gains in clear expectations, and a trend for fewer child externalizing problems and fewer foster home moves than subjects in the control group was reported.

    Results of this study, according to the authors, demonstrate the feasibility of training agency staff and offering joint parenting and co parenting training to meet the needs of participating families. The two-component program is a promising short-term intervention for biological and foster parents in the foster care system and, in addition, holds the promise of a cost-effective integrated approach to parent training.

Linares, L.O., Montalto, D., Li, M. & Oza, V. (2006). A promising parenting intervention in foster care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Vol. 74, No. 1, 32–41

  • Discipline Practices Among Biological and Foster Parents
    This study compared self-reports of discipline practices between biological and foster parents and explored the role of child, parent, and foster care factors (124 parents (62 pairs of biological and foster parents of children who were maltreated average (age 6.2 years). For biological and foster parents, child characteristics (being female, younger, and having more conduct problems) were associated with parental self-reports of less effective discipline. The study also found a positive association between parent-to-parent cooperation and effective discipline. These findings suggest that parenting interventions may need to move beyond simple focus on deficits in parenting knowledge, and that children could benefit from enhancement of supportive relationships between biological and foster parents involved in the foster care system.

Linares, L. O.,l Montalto, D., Rosbruch, N. & Li, M. (2006). Discipline practice among biological and Foster Parents. Child Maltreatment, Vol 11, No. 2. 157–167

  • Sibling-to-sibling aggression among foster children: An understudied form of intra-family violence. Due to histories of family adversity, foster children are at high risk for perpetrating and for being victims of sibling aggression and violence. This article proposes an integrative, multidimensional model for studying risk and protective factors of sibling violence. According to this model, the following are risk factors for impaired psychological functioning (internalizing and externalizing symptoms) and for disruptions in school competence (scholastic and social competence with classmates): exposure to sibling violence (perpetration and victimization), child mental disorder, and placement characteristics. Sibling positivity, quality of the foster care giving and foster rejecting care giving are proposed as moderating processes between exposure to sibling violence and impaired psychological functioning.

    Preliminary findings: l) 'Intense" sibling bonds, both positive and negative, with positivity outweighing negativity, 2) Moderate to high psychological conflict in 68% of siblings; physical fights reported by 40% 'often' or 'always,' 3) Significant associations between conflict, positivity, foster care giving quality, depressive symptoms, child problems, and school competence, 4) Conflict, warmth, and differential warmth made an independent contribution to increased sibling problems, and 5) differential warmth in the presence of high conflict was predictive of increased behavior problems.

    In conclusion, the article states that the study of sibling violence can serve as a window through which we can look to understand how intergenerational violence is transmitted in families. Further research is needed to broaden our understanding of the interplay between risk and protective factors for the population of foster children.

Linares, L. O. (2006). An understudied form of intra-family violence: Sibling-to-sibling aggression among foster children. Aggression and Violent Behavior. Elsevier, 95–109

Current FCCMHP Projects
The following study on the impact of placement conditions (e.g., placed together or apart) on adjustment of siblings over time is being conducted.

  • The Child-Centered Intervention
    An evidence-based child program adapted to meet the needs of young children in foster homes is being implemented at six foster care agencies in NYC. The program goal is to reduce child early aggressivity by a) promoting self-regulation of emotions and behavior, and b) enhancing peer social skills. Children are gathered in small groups at the agency and participate in a 12 skill-building program led by a trained clinical team of agency social workers and NYU Child Study Center staff.
  • Behavioral Trajectories of Siblings in Care
    The FCCMHP is currently studying the behavioral trajectories of 254 maltreated siblings (95 families) who entered foster care at 13 foster care agencies in NYC and who were placed in the same (together) or in different homes (apart). The study aims to understand the behavioral adjustment over time based on l) placement conditions (together or apart; foster moves) 2) the quality of the sibling relationship – positive and negative, 3) characteristics of the foster home, and 4) foster home stability.

Other FCCMHP initiatives are in process or pending. The program has been supported by multi-year federal grants from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, the US Office of Child Abuse and Neglect, and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.