Abuse of children in foster and residential care

Child Abuse Negl. 1999 Dec;23(12):1239-52. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(99)00096-4.


Objective: There have recently been many debates in the UK about how to provide good care for children placed away from home. Professionals have realized that the level of child abuse in foster care and children's homes is high. This research examines the characteristics of physical and sexual abuse of children in foster and residential care in a city in England. The number of cases of abuse reported by pediatricians in this group was compared to the number reported by the same pediatricians for the population of Leeds as a whole.

Method: This is a retrospective study of 158 children, fostered or in residential care who were involved in 191 episodes of alleged physical and/or sexual abuse assessed and reported by pediatricians over a 6 year period from 1990 to 1995 in Leeds, England. Details of the child including the reason for placement in care, their physical and mental health, abuse characteristics, including perpetrator and case management were studied. RESULTS (see Table 1): 158 incidents of abuse in 133 children in foster/residential care are described. In foster care, 42 children were physically abused, 76 were sexually abused, and 15 experienced both forms of abuse. In residential care, 12 children were physically abused, 6 were sexually abused, and 6 experienced both forms of abuse. In foster care 60% of sexual abuse involved girls and 60% of physical abuse involved boys. In residential care almost twice as many boys as girls were reported to be abused. Foster carers perpetrated the abuse for 41%, natural parents on contact for 23%, and children 20% of incidents. A significant proportion of abuse was severe with 1 death, 8 children with burns, 18 with genital, and 34 with anal penetration. Long-standing emotional, behavioral and learning difficulties were common. Most children (80%) had been abused prior to entry into care. Foster children were 7-8 times and children in residential care 6 times more likely to be assessed by a pediatrician for abuse than a child in the general population.

Conclusions: Children in foster or residential care form an at risk group for maltreatment. Their special needs include additional measures to protect them from abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Child Behavior Disorders
  • Child Welfare
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Factors