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Caring for the province’s children in care


Dr. Ken Fowler

By Shannon O’Dea Dawson

Dr. Ken Fowler applies his research expertise to study Newfoundland and Labrador’s children in care and offers recommendations in a comprehensive report.

“This report is why I’m an academic,” explained the assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. “It’s rewarding to work with people who want to make changes to improve the lives of children and families in our province. The fact that many of the recommendations have already been and continue to be adopted is encouraging.”

The research process was objective and respectful, conducted in an environment of trust, explained Dr. Fowler.

“All participants openly shared their experiences in a constructive and professional way including the Department of Health and Community Services, the Janeway, foster parents and families, the Child Youth Advocate and representatives from the courts to highlight challenges, offer remedies, describe successes and innovations – all focused on the children in care.”
Dr. Fowler was commissioned by the provincial government to complete an in-depth exploration of provincial and regional programs and services associated with children in the care and custody of Child, Youth and Family Services entitled Children in Care in Newfoundland and Labrador – A Review of Issues and Trends with Recommendations for Programs and Services.

This comprehensive body of evidence focused primarily on the estimated 625 Newfoundland and Labrador children, some 250 of which are aboriginal, in group homes and in foster care. Research looked to establish an accurate profile of all children currently in the care and custody of Child, Youth and Family Services and determine the extent to which existing placements were suitable.

Dr. Fowler focused primarily on children less than 16 years of age in foster care and in group homes throughout the province. Individuals most knowledgeable about the children currently in care (mainly social workers) completed the Children in Care Profile Questionnaire representing a total of 579 children, resulting in a response rate of 93 per cent. In addition, a total of 90 interviews were conducted with CYFS directors, managers, social workers, government officials, foster families, and other professionals from each health authority, resulting in one of the most accurate profiles of children in care ever compiled.

Dr. Fowler’s research found that the average number of placements was almost three per child. Slightly more than half the children in care were identified as being in continuous care, 35 per cent in temporary care and almost 10 per cent were in interim care. Most children in care did keep in regular contact with their birth parent(s). About three-quarters of all children (with siblings) in care maintained regular contact while just over half maintained regular contact with relatives. Over 60 per cent maintain contact with significant others.

The three primary family history challenges for children in care were neglect, emotional abuse and substance abuse.

There are nine recommendations following this substantial and substantive body of evidence including ongoing education and training for foster parents, establishment of standards for emergency placement options, a new rate structure for the caregiver program, and more culturally-sensitive placement processes especially given the unique needs of the aboriginal population.
An important recommendation involving the recruitment and retention of social workers is highlighted as is other work complementing this research. Currently, in collaboration with Dr. Stacey Wareham from Memorial, Eastern Health researchers, and representatives from the Department of Child, Youth, and Family Services, Dr. Fowler is conducting interviews and focus groups within each health region to gain insight into the issues surrounding social worker recruitment and retention.

The complete report with all research details and recommendations is available at www.gov.nl.ca/cyfs/publications/index.html. Dr. Fowler can be reached in the Department of Psychology at 709-737-7672 or kfowler@play.psych.mun.ca.
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