Foster care is often preferred to other placement options for children in the child welfare system.
However, it is not clear how the developmental outcomes of foster children relate to children in other living arrangements.
In this study, a series of meta-analyses are performed to compare the cognitive, adaptive, and behavioral functioning of children placed in foster care (n = 2,305) with children at risk who remained with their biological parents (n = 4,335) and children from the general population (n = 4,971).
A systematic literature search in PsycINFO, Medline, ERIC, and ProQuest identified 31 studies suitable for inclusion (N = 11,611).
Results showed that foster children had generally lower levels of functioning than children from the general population. No clear differences were found between foster children and children at risk who remained at home, but both groups experienced developmental problems.
Improving the quality of foster care and future research to identify which children are best served by either foster care or in-home services are recommended.
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