The overall aim of the longitudinal study is to analyze the development of children with preceding experiences of maltreatment placed in foster families and to compare it with children without maltreatment experiences. Therefore the longitudinal part compares the development of children in foster families, receiving different levels of support (see TREAT-part), with children without maltreatment experiences living in their original families.
The sample is traced across an interval of initially about 12 months. If additional funding were available, it would be possible to extend the longitudinal study to be able to evaluate long-term effects. Inclusion in the study will start as soon as possible after the decision about the placement of the child in a foster family up until 24 months. The intervals between pre and post assessment resp. between the post and follow-up assessment are about six months. The initial interval includes the intervention phase for the foster care children (for details see TREAT-part). The comparison group will be recruited from either the part-taking foster families or the same pre- and elementary schools attended by the foster care children. Moreover, it will be ensured that the group is comparable to the foster care group with regard to age and gender and – as far as possible – also with regard to other relevant criteria (e.g., socio-economic status).
At the beginning of the longitudinal study family background information has to be gathered regarding previous developmental experiences. Several criteria may be relevant because they may influence the developmental outcomes during the stay in a foster family. Basic characteristics of the child have to be taken into account (e.g., age, gender, intelligence, socio-economic background).
Another central criterion is to register the history of maltreatment (history of abuse, neglect etc.), which will be collected via cooperating youth welfare offices. The kind and duration of previous maltreatment can be of prognostic relevance for the future development in the foster family. Moreover, the kind and duration of support by welfare institutions will be recorded (including previous placement disruptions and reunification attempts). The kind and number of contacts to the original family can also affect the children’s future development.
The primary outcome measures of this longitudinal study are related to child mental health and revictimization. Child mental health will be defined as the number of internalizing and externalizing symptoms shown by children. Moreover, the possible re-occurrence of maltreatment is tracked across the study duration as well as the well-being and self acceptance of the foster children.
Risk factors and resources that may influence the child’s future development are included as well. The amount of available and required support represents additional social resources of a child. The focus is on the child’s available social network and also on the amount of required institutional support that is necessary (and available) to enhance the child’s development. This includes the social resources of foster parents, too. Furthermore the developmental goals and parenting behavior of foster parents will be assessed.
The main assumptions regarding the longitudinal GROW-Part are (1) that there are large differences at the baseline assessments between children living in foster families in comparison to children without maltreatment experiences living in their family of origin. During the stay in a foster family (2) the differences between the foster care group and the comparison group will be reduced (even more for the group with additional intervention).