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    Revealing The Hidden Side Of Foster Care

    Child welfare agencies use a shadow system to remove kids from their parents’ care. Nobody knows how many children are placed this way or what happens to them in new homes.


    Revealing the hidden side of foster care

    By Roxanna Asgarian July 23, 2020

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    (Photo by Nic McPhee/via Flickr/Creative Commons)

    America’s child welfare system is a complex web of city, county and state agencies tasked with investigating abuse and neglect, and, if children are deemed unsafe, placing them outside of their homes temporarily or permanently. Sometimes children will reunite with their parents; other times, they’ll go on to be adopted by family members or non-relatives. In many other cases, they’ll be placed long-term in foster homes, group homes or, for kids with behavioral or other issues, in residential treatment centers.

    I’ve been reporting on child welfare for four years, and I’ve focused on what happens to children once they enter the system. But only recently I came to see that the child welfare system as we know it — which, on Sept. 30 2018, involved 437,283 children — is just the visible side of the iceberg. Down below the water, in a scope that’s still murky, lies the “shadow” side, which some experts guess involves potentially just as many children.

    Around the country, child welfare systems employ "voluntary safety plans,” in which they ask parents to send their kids to a relative before they initiate a case. That means the custody of these children changes, but no court case is filed, no judge weighs in, and no lawyers are assigned to the parents. Some jurisdictions, including Texas, have said they use these plans only during the investigatory phase, when they are unsure if the children are safe. But since no case is filed, it's tough to know for sure how long kids stay in these arrangements. Because no case is on file, these types of removals aren’t counted as removals in the data collected by states and counties. This means no one knows how many children’s placements have been changed this way — or, in many cases, what happens to the children in their new homes.

    Some parental lawyers argue that if Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies investigate families and finds conditions they deem unsafe but that may not rise to the level of actionable in court, they employ this tactic. One Texas lawyer told me he had a client who came to him after her kids were living for two and a half years with a family member, and she wanted them back. Because these voluntary safety plans are made outside a courtroom, they don't trigger the federal timelines for resolution of a case. They also don't provide kinship payments to the families for taking care of kids, which are a substantial source of support. Many places don't require services for parents (or pay for them) in order to get their kids back. This might be one of the reasons the practice is so widespread — it costs CPS a lot less than taking a kid into care.

    It's a legal limbo for the families, though. Many parental lawyers say it robs parents of their due process, and instead of being voluntary, the practice is coercive. Crucially, advocates worry that the specific language of the Family First Prevention Services Act, the recent federal legislation that has opened avenues for funding more prevention services, might be used to codify and expand the use of “hidden” foster care without putting any regulations around its use or even requiring states to disclose data on how widely they use these plans.

    “We cannot quantify with precision the total number of children in hidden foster care or what happens to them,” wrote a working group in a letter requesting the federal Children’s Bureau require data on the practice. “Studies suggest that the total number of children brought into hidden foster care each year is roughly on par with the total number of children removed and placed into the formal foster care system — in other words, hundreds of thousands of children each year.”

    My project aims to explore exactly how widespread this practice is, and, using narrative examples, what issues can arise from its use. I hope that by outlining the issue and telling stories of the families living under these circumstances, we can get a far more accurate picture of the reach the child welfare system has on American families.

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    Source : centerforhealthjournalism.org

    Intervention Effects on Negative Affect of CPS

    Exposure to early adversity places young children at risk for behavioral, physiological, and emotional dysregulation, predisposing them to a range of long-term problematic outcomes. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) is a 10-session intervention ...

    Child Abuse Negl. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Sep 1.

    Published in final edited form as:

    Child Abuse Negl. 2014 Sep; 38(9): 1459–1467.

    Published online 2014 May 10. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.04.004

    PMCID: PMC4160393

    NIHMSID: NIHMS588489

    PMID: 24814751

    Intervention Effects on Negative Affect of CPS-Referred Children: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial

    Teresa Lind,1 Kristin Bernard,2 Emily Ross,3 and Mary Dozier1

    Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer

    The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Child Abuse Negl

    See other articles in PMC that cite the published article.

    Go to:


    Exposure to early adversity places young children at risk for behavioral, physiological, and emotional dysregulation, predisposing them to a range of long-term problematic outcomes. Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) is a 10-session intervention designed to enhance children’s self-regulatory capabilities by helping parents to behave in nurturing, synchronous, and non-frightening ways. The effectiveness of the intervention was assessed in a randomized clinical trial, with parents who had been referred to Child Protective Services (CPS) for allegations of maltreatment. Parent-child dyads received either the ABC intervention or a control intervention. Following the intervention, children from the ABC intervention (n = 56) expressed lower levels of negative affect during a challenging task compared to children from the control intervention (n = 61).

    Keywords: Neglect, Parenting, Emotion expression

    Young children referred to Child Protective Services (CPS) may experience a range of adverse early experiences, including abuse, homelessness, poverty, neglect, and exposure to violence. These experiences can lead to a variety of problems, including difficulties with the regulation of behavior, physiology, and affect (Bernard, Butzin-Dozier, Rittenhouse, & Dozier, 2010; Gunnar & Vazquez, 2001). Parents, serving as co-regulators, play a critical role in supporting young children’s regulatory development during infancy, and in helping children as they gradually begin to take over regulatory functions themselves during the toddler and preschool years (Calkins & Keane, 2009; Kopp, 1982; Raver, 1996). However, CPS-referred and other high-risk parents often fail to provide the kinds of interactions critical for the development of children’s regulatory capabilities (Dadds, Mullins, McAllister, & Atkinson, 2003; Shipman et. al., 2007). Thus, there is a compelling need for effective interventions for families who have been referred to CPS but whose children remain living with their biological caregivers.

    The Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) intervention was developed to help parents learn to behave in ways that support children’s ability to develop self-regulatory skills, and addresses many issues relevant for CPS-referred families. The present study assessed the effects of this intervention on expression of negative affect in CPS-referred children, a key component of affect regulation.

    Effects of Early Adversity on Emotion Expression

    Early childhood is an important period for the development of emotional competence in children (Kopp, 1989; Kopp & Neufeld, 2003). Emotional competence involves the expression of emotions and the appropriate control of emotional expressiveness under different conditions (Denham et al., 2003; Miller et al., 2006; Saarni, 1999). An important component of this control of emotional expressiveness is the ability to regulate expression of negative affect during challenging or frustrating situations. Difficulties regulating the expression negative affect have been linked with later behavior problems and lower social competence (Cole & Smith, 1993; Dennis, Cole, 2009; Eisenberg, 2000; Fabes, 1991; Hill, Calkins, 2006).

    Given the central role that parents play in the development of children’s ability to regulate their emotion expression, it is not surprising that maltreated children display deficits in emotional development (Field, 1994; Graziano, Keane, & Calkins, 2010; Thompson, 1994). Human infants are born almost fully dependent on parents, and many aspects of development rely on parent’s involvement (Hofer, 1994; Winberg, 2005). This is especially true of children’s developing regulation abilities, as parents serve a key role as co-regulators of behavior, affect, and physiology (Calkins & Keane, 2009; Hofer, 1994). Through many successful experiences in which infants regulate emotions effectively with the help of a parent, children are gradually able to take over the regulatory processes themselves. Therefore, these parent-child interactions during infancy and toddlerhood are critical for the development of child emotion expression and regulation capabilities (Calkins, 1994; Thompson & Myer, 2007).

    Maltreating parents often fail to provide the critical support necessary for the development of children’s emotional competence. Specifically, maltreating parents have been found to engage in less validation and more invalidation of children’s emotions compared to non-maltreating parents (Dadds et al., 2003; Shipman et al., 2007). These controlling and dismissing parental responses have been linked to greater emotion regulation difficulties and increased anger expression in young children (Dadds & Rhodes, 2008; Denham, Mitchell, Strandberg, Auerbach, & Blair, 1997; Lunkenheimer, Shields, & Cortina, 2007).

    Source : www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

    The Perfect Storm: Hidden Risk of Child Maltreatment During the Covid

    The Covid-19 pandemic upended the country, with enormous economic and social shifts. Given the increased contact from families living in virtual confinement cou...

    The Perfect Storm: Hidden Risk of Child Maltreatment During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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    Christina M. Rodriguez, Shawna J. Lee, Kaitlin P. Ward,

    First Published December 23, 2020 Research Article Find in PubMed


    Abstract Full Text References

    Supplementary Materials

    Cited by PDF


    The Covid-19 pandemic upended the country, with enormous economic and social shifts. Given the increased contact from families living in virtual confinement coupled with massive economic disarray, the Covid-19 pandemic may have created the ideal conditions to witness a rise in childrens experience of abuse and neglect. Yet such a rise will be difficult to calculate given the drop in official mechanisms to track its incidence. The current investigation utilized two studies conducted early in the pandemic to evaluate maltreatment risk. In the first cross-sectional study, parents ( = 405) reported increased physical and verbal conflict and neglect which were associated with their perceived stress and loneliness. In the second study, parents ( = 106) enrolled in a longitudinal study reported increased parent-child conflict, which was associated with concurrent child abuse risk, with several links to employment loss, food insecurity, and loneliness; findings also demonstrated increases in abuse risk and psychological aggression relative to pre-pandemic levels. Findings are discussed in the context of a reactive welfare system rather than a pro-active public-health oriented approach to child maltreatment, connecting with families through multiple avenues. Innovative approaches will be needed to reach children faced with maltreatment to gauge its scope and impact in the pandemics aftermath.


    child abuse and neglect, socioeconomic risk, prevention, public health, pandemic

    As the world confronts the unprecedented events of the Covid-19 crisis, the risk for the welfare of children demands urgent attention. Prior to this pandemic, child maltreatment represented a serious, pervasive public health concern. Research now estimates that one of eight U.S. children will be confirmed a victim of maltreatment before their 18th birthday—a cumulative estimate far exceeding what is implied by national annual rates of official reports to child protective services (Wildeman et al., 2014). However, the scope of child maltreatment appears to be multiple times such officially reported rates (cf. Meinck et al., 2016; Sedlak et al., 2010). Because official records significantly underestimate maltreatment, researchers often obtain parent or child reports to gauge maltreatment incidence, despite evidence that parents also underreport maltreatment of their children (e.g., Meinck et al., 2016). Given the obstacles in establishing maltreatment incidence, researchers often turn to parental self-report to estimate —the parenting beliefs and behaviors that characterize abusive parenting (e.g., Bavolek & Keene, 2001; Milner, 1994; Stith et al., 2009). For example, physical abuse is considered an extreme form of parent-child aggression in which physical discipline intensifies and escalates to become abuse (Afifi et al., 2017; Durrant et al., 2009; Zolotor et al., 2008). Robust links between greater physical discipline use and physical abuse (e.g., Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Lee et al., 2014) are supported by findings that more frequent hitting of children is a strong risk factor for physical child abuse (Durrant et al., 2009; Zolotor et al., 2008).

    The Covid-19 pandemic may deepen the child maltreatment public health problem nationally. After natural disasters, hospital admission records reveal an increase in inflicted traumatic brain injury (Keenan et al., 2004), underscoring that the incidence of child abuse may rise following natural disasters (Seddighi et al., 2019). Children also experience elevated risk for maltreatment during times of economic upheaval, such as the Great Recession (Brooks-Gunn et al., 2013). In reflecting on the response to prior pandemics, such as the H1N1 flu, attention to the wellbeing of children was regarded as inadequate (Douglas et al., 2009; Murray, 2010). Yet natural disasters, economic turmoil, or prior flu pandemics do not merge all the child maltreatment risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic simultaneously. News reports of increased rates of hospital visits and hospitalizations for abuse attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic have already surfaced (e.g., Da Silva, 2020; Woodall, 2020). Empirical research is needed to examine the escalated child maltreatment risk potentially unfolding during this pandemic.

    Potential Covid-19 Contributors to Risk for Maltreatment

    Contributors to child maltreatment have typically been viewed as complex, nested levels of influence aligned with ecological theory (Belsky, 1980, 1993). In this conceptualization, maltreatment arises from individual-level (ontogenic), family-level (microsystem), community-level (exosystem), and societal-level (macrosystem) factors. Among the myriad ways the pandemic is impacting families, the current investigation focused on the potential influence on parents at the personal level in terms of mental health and at the exosystem level in terms of social isolation and economic turmoil—ecological factors with established links to maltreatment.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought substantial economic hardship on many families. Historic rates of unemployment surpassed the Great Recession, at levels not witnessed since the Great Depression (Kochnar, 2020), with over 40 million Americans filing for unemployment within months of the announcement of the pandemic (Lambert, 2020). For example, prior to this pandemic, parental unemployment was implicated as a risk factor for child maltreatment. Unemployment rates during the Great Recession corresponded with increased hospitalizations for abusive head trauma (Berger et al., 2011), and unemployment rates parallel the official rates of investigated and substantiated maltreatment (Frioux et al., 2014). Hospital records reveal that the incidence of non-accidental fractures is greater in families with unemployed parents (Leaman et al., 2017). Such findings on unemployment are replicated in multiple large longitudinal studies using parent-report or official reports of maltreatment (Slack et al., 2011). Population-based surveillance of maltreatment in the U.S. estimated that unemployed parents were four times more likely to neglect their children and twice as likely to physically abuse them (Sedlak et al., 2010).

    Source : journals.sagepub.com

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