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Friday, January 21, 2005

Dangerous Assumptions Part 3

Is the meme that foster care/adoption is better for a child than an orphanage a dangerous assumption?

This was the best of the articles I found regarding this subject. It starts off kind of wacky but provides the goods if you get through the first few sections.

A few things stand out from this article:

1. There has been some debate on this subject. Newt Gingrich briefly tried to champion orphanages in the 90’s. This is an argument against the meme being a dangerous assumption. However, given the MSM’s stranglehold on information during that decade, and their antipathy to Gingrich, the fact that there was a debate isn’t compelling enough to decide the issue.

2. Orphanages went out of favor during the 50’s and 60’s because studies showed “very young children” raised in them developed slowly and lacked social skills later in life. As a result,

In 1980, Congress passed the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, which established that the nation's goal was to prevent the removal of abused and neglected children from their homes and, if they were removed, to reunify them with their families as quickly as possible.

Let’s assume the studies mentioned above were accurate. Nonetheless, this is a compelling argument that the FC/A is better meme is a dangerous assumption. Studies of pre-teen and teenagers were not made. Then, the fact that the adoption of legislation happened during the reign of the '68 Generation automatically makes it suspect. Finally, no comparison studies were made. Is it wrong to assume that there may have been some correlation, rather than causation, between children who were put in orphanages at a young age and developmental problems? It makes sense to assume that at least some of these children were traumatized prior to being in orphanages. Or that some of them were genetically predisposed to having problems.

But a better argument that FC/A is a dangerous assumption is this declaration, which declares it is not. Written in 1995, perhaps in response to Gingrich- it screams dangerous assumption. Here are a series of quotes begging to be fisked:

· Many insecurely attached, institutionalized children lack empathy, seek behavior in negative ways, exhibit poor self-confidence, show indiscriminate affection toward adults, are prone to noncompliance, and are more aggressive than their non-institutionalized counterpart.

Let’s start with the word “many”. Could the author have been more vague? How about telling us the percentages? Wait, there really is no use to that, since “insecurely attached, institutionalized” is just as vague. It is a useless sentence. Are kids rotated from one foster care situation to another not insecurely attached? What percentages of children are rotated? Did these children have problems before they were institutionalized? Is the non-institutionalized counterpart securely attached because he or she was ABLE to attach, to take hold with a family, whereas the institutionalized child had problems making it more difficult? What percentage of foster parents can’t attach with child A, but do attach to child B? Is child A then sent to other foster parents?

· With few exceptions, children reared in poor quality institutions fail to sit, stand, walk, and talk by age four.

Is this an argument for foster care or for high quality institutions? Is this a tautology? Wouldn’t anyone label a place where children failed “to sit, stand, walk, and talk by age four” a “poor quality institutions?”

· Close examination reveals that even good institutions harm young children, leave teens ill-prepared for the outside world, and cost over three times more than a permanent, loving family.

Why are these “good institutions?” How do they harm young children? Do they harm them more than foster parents? If the standard of comparison is “a permanent, loving family,” what percentages of children go to such families?

In the end I cannot prove this meme is false. The only way to prove such a thing is to disprove, with compelling evidence, all the unproven claims made by the industry that thrives off of it. But I hope I have shown that, at least when it comes to children who do not fit in the “very young children” category, a dangerous assumption MAY BE at work.

Could I prove it is a dangerous assumption? Probably. Will I? No. I lack motivation to do so. Just like everybody else.


  • At 2:34 PM, Blogger Crazy Diamond said…

    There used to be (and still are, I just don't pay much attention any more) arguments over what institutional factors caused some schools to (on average) turn out better-performing students than others. Was it the money spent? The education level of the teachers? The diversity of the school? Access to computers?

    The one study I found that made sense to me was one that finally included the parents' attitude toward school. They found that if parents want their kids to do well, they do well. If the parents don't care, the kids don't do particularly well. All the rest made relatively little difference.

    I'm guessing the same is true here. If you ask "is foster care better than orphanages?" my guess is the data will end up fuzzy at best. One institution vs another. Let me propose a gedanken experiment: If you could measure the commitment level of the caregivers, regardless of institutional situation, my prediction would be that loving caregivers produce better results (ie, more socially adapted adults)than those showing up for a paycheck.

  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger Crazy Diamond said…

    Here's a dangerous assumption being slowly whittled down in the US, but still in full swing in the EU and most other countries: professional state-funded educators are the best (or only possible) instructors for school-aged children.

    In the US, we have several alternatives to public education. Everyone recognizes private schools as an alternative, charter schools are (with difficulty) gaining ground, and homeschooling is legal in all states even if a number of public school officials continue to pretend otherwise.

    Right now in Germany there are a number of families being threatened with the removal of their children into state custody unless they stop trying to homeschool. This is still an improvement over a few years ago when I registered my, well, let's be polite and call it anger with the German embassy over an incident where what amounts to a SWAT team smashed into a German house in North Rhine-Westphalia and terrorized (yes, I meant that word, I don't see any other way to describe it) the family into sending their kids back to public school.

    We could still revert to that sort of vileness here, but it's becoming harder. Still, the assumption that only certified, state-funded teachers are able to instruct children is false (DA characteristic #1), it's used to propose (and sometimes even enact) legislation (DA characteristic #2), and it's done far more harm than good (DA char #3).


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