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Do ethnic minorities get second best solutions? A comparison of children in care in 2005


Background. Ethnic minority children do make up 9-10 percent of all children, both for the group of 0-18-year-olds as a whole, but also within each age level. But do ethnic minority children make up 9-10 percent of all children placed in care? And do we treat children with ethnic minority background and Danish children alike? Earlier research indicates that ethnic minority children are treated differently; they are placed in care later in life and to a lesser extent in foster homes than children with ethnic Danish background.

In a Danish context, we do not know much about ethnic minority children placed in care. Approximately 1 percent of all children in Denmark will in one or more periods of their childhood and adolescence be placed outside their home. Almost all 0-5-year-olds are placed in foster homes; this fraction is however decreasing by age of the child so that only one third of the 15-17-year-olds are placed in foster homes. The question is, whether this holds for ethnic minority children too?

Many ethnic minority families are more vulnerable than Danish families at the same socio-economic level. Therefore the children from these families are more vulnerable than children of Danish families. As the share of children in Denmark with ethnic minority background is rapidly rising, the challenge in the nearest future - for research, practice and policy makers - is to begin to include ethnic origin in the official statistics, to see if we treat children of ethnic minorities as we treat Danish children, when placement in out-of-home care is an option.

Purpose. The research questions are:

  • Does parental background, the child's gender, age at first placement, care career, or type of care environment (e.g. foster home or residential care) differ for ethnic minority children in care and Danish children in care - or are they all treated the same way?
  • Is the child's care career (i.e. the child's pathway through the placement system) influenced by where these children originally come from (other European countries or less developed countries around the world) or does it matter whether they are first or second generation immigrants (and do the age of arrival into Denmark matter)?

This analysis builds on administrative data on all Danish children placed in care during 2005. We have information on the children's placement history (number and duration of placements), and kind of placement (foster care or residential care), parent's socioeconomic background, as well as both children's and parent's family structure. All information is objective data from administrative registers. Thus, we get a thorough description of the children of ethnic minorities placed outside home and their background history, compared to Danish children placed outside home. This description constitutes a platform to value whether ethnic minority children are treated the same way as Danish children. The final examinations are through multivariate analyses.

Definition. Four categories, made mutually exclusive, are used to define the groups of ethnic minority children used in the analyses:

  • children that are first generation immigrants,
  • children that are second generation immigrants, i.e. born in Denmark but by immigrant- or refugee parents,
  • children of mixed couples, where one of the parents are immigrant,
  • and as a special group in a Danish context: Children with at least one parent from Greenland.

Key findings. The findings are all quantitative. Preliminary results show that - compared to the population of 0-17-year-old children in Denmark -first generation immigrants are overrepresented among children in care. At the same time second generation immigrants are underrepresented. When we use age brackets this picture changes. The 0-12-year-old ethnic minority children are underrepresented, whereas the teenagers are overrepresented. So when we say that placement outside home is becoming a teenage phenomenon, this is much more evident for children of ethnic minorities.

Looking at the type of placement, 0-12-year-old ethnic minority children are placed in residential care twice as often as Danish children in that age group. In addition, the 13-17-year-old ethnic minority children are more often in residential care than foster care and twice as many 13-17-year-old ethnic minority children are placed in independent living - requiring that they have to take care of themselves most of the time - than 13-17-year-old Danish children. The solutions for ethnic minority children are different than for Danish children, but are they second best solution?

Key references

Barn, R. (1998). Race, ethnicity and foster care - meeting the needs of minority ethnic children. Exchanging Visions, 56-63.

Moffatt, P. G. & Thoburn, J. (2001). Outcomes of permanent family placement for children of minority ethnic origin. Child & Family Social Work, 6(1), 13-21.

Contacts: Mette Lausten, Senior Researcher Danish National Centre for Social Research, Herluf Trolles Gade 11, DK-1052 Copenhagen K, E-mail: mel@sfi.dk, Phone +45 33 69 77 13.

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