One in three children who have been reunified with their families after being placed in foster care will be maltreated again, according to a study into Quebec’s youth protection system by Marie-Andrée Poirier and Sonia Hélie of the University of Montreal’s School of Social Services. The study, the first of its kind in the world, was undertaken in the wake of a new law intended to improve the family stability of youth receiving child protection services.
The researchers, who are also affiliated with the Centre jeunesse de Montréal-Institut universitaire, looked at data collated in 2008 and 2009 by the province’s 16 youth protection centres to identify why children were re-entering the system after having already been placed in a foster family, returned to their biological family, and had their case closed. In all, Poirier and Hélie were looking at what happened in the lives of 4,120 minors, between the ages of 0 and 17, during the five years following the closing of their initial episode of services.
The study found that 33% percent of these children subsequently required further assistance from youth protection services, and the researchers found that two factors were particularly influential as to whether or not a child would fall into this category. Firstly, age. “Children aged three to five were most at risk of being abused or neglected again. This is due to their vulnerability and the constant care that they need,” Poirier said. The number of attempts that have been to reunite the child with his or her biological family is the second factor, at least amongst the youngest participants in the study. “It’s not instability with regards to the foster families with whom the child has been that plays a role, but rather the back-and-forth between the biological family and other settings. We believe that young children are more sensitive to the outcomes of failures to reunite the biological family and that this has an effect on their sense of attachment.”