Foster Care

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Foster Care and its Effects on Children


Group homes and foster homes have served as an alternative to incarceration in the juvenile justice system for well over 40 years. Originally envisioned to encourage pro-social development of low-risk youths or to support transition to the community from more restrictive settings, the emergence of group homes and foster homes also reflected the advancements in social science that attempted to determine the most effective and healthy interventions for young people with problem behaviors.

Table of Contents



History of Foster Homes1

How big is the issue?3


The Effects from Removal5

Needs of the child6

How can the system be improved6

Training for all involved7




Foster Care and its Effects on Children


Group homes and foster homes were created as an alternative to incarceration in the late 1960s as a response to research suggesting that the least restrictive and most therapeutic responses to delinquent behavior would be more successful when trying to impact the future behavior of young offenders, especially those with low-level offenses or short offending histories. Over time, these group home settings have been used to house more seriously delinquent youths with longer histories of deviance, as well as youths who come from abuse and neglect situations.

History of Foster Homes

Rather than mitigate the negative effects of incarceration on future re-offense, current research suggests that the intended pro-social supports in group home settings might be diluted by the higher concentration of negative peer influences in the group home setting and the relative lack of positive supports that might otherwise be available to the youths in their own community or family setting. The history of group homes and foster homes in the United States has its beginnings in the 1960s; since that time, much research has been conducted on their effectiveness in reducing re-offense, and several positives and negatives of using these placements as a response to the problem of juvenile delinquency have arisen.

Under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the United States took its first serious look at the effectiveness of youth incarceration in 1967 through the work of the Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Administration (Allen, Milner, Price p. 6). The commission found that incarceration did not result in positive outcomes for youths in terms of either lower recidivism or improvements in pro-social functioning or competency development (Allen, Milner, Price p. 6). In fact, these institutionalized settings were also sometimes found inhumane, using more restrictive means than necessary, and applying these secure conditions to non-serious offenders, often at great expense (Allen, Milner, Price p. 6). As a result, the commission recommended that community-based alternatives to incarceration be developed. Group homes and foster homes became one of the options the juvenile justice system then turned to as a means to keep youths from secure confinement (Allen, Milner, Price p. 6).

The earliest group homes and foster homes designed specifically for juvenile justice populations were created around the theory that delinquent youths would benefit from being in a home-like environment where they could experience positive adult interactions and role models while learning ...
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