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Paper

The Looking After Children approach in four child protection centres in Quebec: the effects on the evolution of children in care

abstract

Background. In Quebec, the Youth Protection Act aims to protect children whose security and development are threatened by problems such as neglect, physical and sexual abuse, behavioural problems, and abandonment. Every year, approximately one of every three children cared for under the Act is taken from their family home and placed in a foster home. Placements in foster homes present important challenges, particularly with respect to the regular follow-up of foster children.

In order to deal with these challenges more adequately, the Association des Centres Jeunesse du Québec (ACJQ) decided to implement the Looking After Children approach (LAC) in four regions of Quebec. The goal of this approach is to provide a more refined evaluation of the foster children's needs, and subsequently, to develop a more comprehensive care plan based on this evaluation. At the same time, it aims to promote resilience in foster children, as well as their optimal development. LAC has been an important initiative internationally in child welfare over the last decade because of its central focus on improving substitute parenting and developmental outcomes for young people in care. Following the implementation of this approach in Quebec, an evaluation study has been initiated to follow and understand the implementation process of LAC and to evaluate its effects on the children's development.

 

Purpose. The study featured in this poster is conducted by a group of Quebec researchers with the collaboration of the Association des centres jeunesse du Quebec and the four participating youth centres. This evaluation study has revealed some interesting data about the participating children's lives through the use of the Assessment and Action Record (AAR), the main tool in the LAC approach. The AAR is filled out every 12 months by the child's case worker, together with the foster parents and the foster child. The AAR covers seven developmental dimensions: health, education, sense of identity, family and social relationships, social presentation, emotional and behavioural development, and self-care skills. It represents a precious source of information about the foster children and their life situations because it follows the children's development over a long period of time. In Quebec, the LAC approach, with the AAR, are the only mechanisms used to follow foster children's development and to obtain precise data on their lives. This study having begun in 2003, we now have longitudinal measures that allow us to evaluate the children's situations at different stages of their placement experience. Univariate analysis are performed on a sample of 115 children classified by age groups (5 to 9 years, 10 to 14 years, 15 years and more). More precisely, data on the child's performance at school, the evolution of the child's functioning, and the quality of the child's relationship with his or her foster parents will be presented.

 

Key findings. The results obtained in the first stage of the evaluation research are generally positive. The foster parents and case workers involved in the pilot project consider that the LAC approach enables them to know the participating children better and to discuss sensitive subjects with them, which leads to a more accurate evaluation of the children's needs. The participating children have also expressed favourable opinions about LAC. The majority of the children told us that they learned new things about themselves, such as the positive aspects of their personality and reasons for their low self-esteem and their bad moods. They realised that they didn't know what will happen in the future (mainly in relation to their education) and that they liked their foster families. They discovered more about their interests, their past lives, and their sense of identity in relation to their biological families. Although these results are positive, the first stage of the evaluation process did not measure the effects of LAC on the children over time, a necessary step in understanding how LAC is contributing to their development. Regarding the LAC philosophy, we expect that school performance will improve for the participating children. We also expect a diminution of behavioural problems such as anxiety and depression. In addition, LAC should have a positive effect on pro-social behaviour. Finally, we expect that LAC will improve the children's relationship with their foster parents, for example, by improving communication.

The results of the study will contribute to an understanding of children's evolution during foster care and the effects of the Looking After Children approach. The results will also highlight interventions which could improve outcome for these children. Moreover, they will contribute to justifying the decision to apply the Looking After Children approach throughout Quebec.

Key references

Flynn, R. J., Ghazal, H., & Legault, L. (2004). Looking After Children: Good Parenting, Good Outcomes. Assessment and Action Record (second Canadian adaptation). Ottawa, ON & London, UK: Centre for Research on Community Services, University of Ottawa & Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO).

Pantin, S., Flynn, R. & Runnels, V. (2006). Training, experience, and supervision: Keys to enhancing the utility of the Assessment and Action Record in implementing Looking After Children. In R. Flynn, P. M. Dudding, & J. Barber (Eds.), Promoting Resilience in Child Welfare. Ottawa: Presse de l'Université d'Ottawa, Centre d'excellence pour la protection et le bien-être des enfants.

 

Contacts: Marie-Claude Simard, Ph.D., researcher, Centre jeunesse de Québec - Institut universitaire, 2915, Avenue Bourg-Royal, Québec (Québec) Canada, G1C 3S2, E-mail: marieclaudesimard.cj03@ssss.gouv.qc.ca, Phone 1-418-661-6951 (extension 1432).

 

 

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