NUMBER 1117 � 18 JANUARY � children who were in care


For almost all of the subjects in this study, being in care had been and unpleasant experience with several negative connotations. On the whole:

  • they have unpleasant memories of having been in children's homes;
  • they had exceedingly little chance to form adequate attachment with either natural of substitute parents; and
  • they generally felt stigmatised for having been in a children�s home. However, 20 % of them say that they would have chosen substitute care over remaining with their natural parents.

Interview data on their present levels of psychosocial adaptation seem to indicate that for most, they have proved to be a relatively invincible group of subjects who, despite extremely poor prognostic indications and reportedly miserable childhoods, have achieved relatively good adaptation as adults. None are undergoing psychiatric treatment, none are substance abusers and although control data is not available, they seem to have broken the cycle of disadvantage on the gross measures of adaptation that were applied. These results are thought to be interesting since the method used was to trace a group from file data, instead of looking at either a criminal recidivism rate or the parents of abused children  �  these being the more frequently encountered methods of investigation.

The group which has not been as resilient to the adverse circumstances however, are those who were removed before the age of 2 years, who show a much poorer level of adaption on both the interview and 16PF data. This finding is supportive of the theoretical standpoints of Bowlby, Ainsworth, Goldstein, Freud and Solnit, and others. Of the eleven subjects removed before the age of two years, nearly all:

  • have extremely negative memories of their childhoods;
  • have experienced particular difficulty with forming long term attachments, as evidenced by their marital history;
  • have difficulties with parenting  �  76 % of their children have been found to be in need of care, and many lacked confidence as parents, having a tendency to consult professionals seeking support and guidance with their parenting;
  • show maladjustments on the 16PF.

Thus, bearing in mind the limitations of the present unsophisticated study, it appears that the future for many of the children placed in our care is not as dismal as we at times think and feel. Children do indeed have some degree of invulnerability to adverse life circumstances and are able, with help, to rise above the difficulties and problems that they faced as children. This is particularly true for those children aged above three years at the time of the removal. However, one faces a considerable ethical dilemma if one needs to remove a child before the age of two years, as in this situation it seems that the child is more likely to experience difficulties later in life with psychosocial adaptation.

These results raise considerable philosophical and ethical issues. It is thus clearly incumbent on children�s homes to do all in their power to make an individual�s time in a children�s home a more healthy experience by:

  • more selective staffing to cut down the high staff turn-over.
  • greater encouragement of attachment formation with substitute parents
  • development of a therapeutic milieu and decreasing the institutional elements of children�s homes.
  • increase the likelihood of children having pleasant childhood memories. Only when one has adequately addressed these issues, can one fully justify the removal of a child from his family and his or her placement in substitute care.



Killian. B. (1989). What happens to children raised in children's homes? In Biderman-Pam. M., Gannon. B. (eds). Competent Care Competent Kids. Cape Town: The National Association of Child Care Workers.
  pp. 263 � 264.





































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