Identifying All Forms of Abuse Is Important in Children Receiving Foster Care

Canadian foster care services are similar to American social services in that they aim to provide safe and nurturing environments for children in need. Children who are referred to social services such as foster care are usually the victims of maltreatment of some kind. The types of abuses that these children experience vary but include neglect, sexual abuse, endangerment, physical violence, and emotional abuse. Although all of the children referred to foster care services are survivors of at least one type of maltreatment, it is unclear how many of these children have experienced multiple forms of abuse, which is referred to as polyvictimization. In order to help these children recover, it is essential that clinicians be aware of the various forms of maltreatment they have experienced. Therefore, Katie Cyr of the School of Social Work at the University of Montreal in Canada recently led a study that measured what percentages of children in social services had experienced polyvictimization.

Cyr interviewed 82 caregivers of preadolescent children and 136 teens in foster care using the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire (JVQ). She asked the children and caregivers to report the types of maltreatment that occurred during the previous year. She found that almost all of the children had experienced some form of maltreatment, and 93% of those children had experienced polyvictimization. Additionally, over half (54%) of the children had been the victims of more than three different types of abuse or maltreatment in the previous year. Cyr said, “The results of this study highlight the importance of obtaining data on multiple forms of victimization experienced by young people from diverse populations.” Doing so will allow mental health professionals to target each and every form of abuse and the psychological damage caused by them. Children who are adequately identified as high risk children will then be able to receive the services they need to address their individual issues in the most effective and constructive ways possible.

Cyr, K., Chamberland, C., Lessard, G., Clément, M.-È., Wemmers, J.-A., Collin-Vézina, D., et al. (2012). Polyvictimization in a child welfare sample of children and youths. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028040

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  • Meg


    July 12th, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    I know of foster children who not only had to suffer abuse from the hands of their own biological parents but also from the foster homes that were then supposed to take them in and nurture them. Sometimes it seems that foster care does little to protect these kids from the abuse that is supposedly shielding them from. Out of the fire and into the frying pan in too many cases.

  • cher t

    cher t

    July 13th, 2012 at 4:19 AM

    How old are the children being questioned and can their responses always be trusted.
    Please don’t think that I am blaming the victim- that is certainly not my intent.
    But I do think that sometimes we have to be careful when questioning children.
    Are they being led to tell researchers the answers that they think they want to hear, as a way of trying to please that adult?
    Or are they honestly being forthright about the abuses that they have experienced at the hands of others?
    Either way, this is a child that needs help to get to a healthier place.

  • katy


    July 13th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    although a good idea,this may not help all the time.a child could have been abused in one way only but his level of horror could be greater than another child who has been polyvictimized!

    awful to see that such a large percentage of children have been polyvictimized.

  • Clarke


    July 13th, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Rarely do you find abuse situations where the child has only had to go through one type of abuse Most abusers have so many problems that they will take it out on the children in multiple manners. They may hit, they may hurt with words, they may abuse them sexually, etc. We have to make sure that when we are offering care to these children that we remain focused on the fact that they have had to deal with so many different things in their lives that it could take a very long time for them to heal or feel any sense of normalcy.

  • Olivia


    July 14th, 2012 at 6:33 AM

    We see what we want to see, and the saddest thing of all is when we choose to see nothing at all. Do you know how many more children continue to hurt when we refuse to pay attention to the hell that they are living in?

  • Lizz


    July 14th, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Pathetic that kids are having to face all these things.And to have them going through multiple forms of abuse is just horrible.Foster care places need to be trained not just in handling the issues but also in ensuring that such things do not repeat with the child.

  • catherine d

    catherine d

    July 15th, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Really, is it so important to know the numbers?
    the fact is that we know that all of the kids in foster care have had to put up with some really nasty stuff by someone in their lives.
    Why isn’t that alone enough?
    This money I think that is being used to fund studies like this that really have no beneficial outcome could be used much more wisely to make sure that these kids get treatment and counseling and that the families who are now taking care of them have the required training and educatiing to be a bright spot in their lives.

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