Comparing long-term placements for young children in care: Does placement type really matter?


This paper presents findings from the third phase of a longitudinal study, entitled Care Pathways and Outcomes, which has been tracking the placements and measuring outcomes for a population of children (n = 374) who were under the age of five and in care in Northern Ireland on the 31st March 2000. It explores how a sub-sample of these children at age nine to 14 years old were getting on in the placements provided for them, in comparative terms across five placement types: adoption; foster care; kinship foster care (with relatives); on Residence Order; and living with birth parents. This specifically focused on the development of attachment and self-concept from the perspective of the children, and behavioural and emotional function, and parenting stress, from the perspective of parents and carers. Findings showed no significant placement effect from the perspective of children, and a statistically weak, but descriptively compelling, effect from the perspective of parents. The findings challenge the notion of adoption as the gold standard in long-term placements, specifically from the perspective of children in terms of their parent/carer attachments and self-concept, and highlight what appears to be the central importance of placement longevity for delivering positive longer-term outcomes for these children, irrespective of placement type.