What kind of adults will today's foster children become? Many experts are deeply concerned that the unsettling or unsavory experiences these children endure could cause large numbers to be, in adulthood, bitterly antisocial or totally dependent on government.
The concerns are understandable but may be largely unnecessary. Results of a study of former foster children, completed in the early 1980s, are reassuring. Trudy Festinger, author of the study, found that ``on the whole, the young adults [who had been foster children] are really not so different from others their age'' in terms of arrest records, economic independence, and personal characteristics.
``The one place they seemed to be different was education,'' she says. ``They had somewhat less education than the young adults in the community at large.''
Dr. Festinger is a professor of research at New York University's School of Social Work. She interviewed 270 adults, then in their late 20s or early 30s, who had been foster children in New York City in the mid to early 1970s. ``An awful lot had virtually grown up in foster care.'' She says they talked ``rather openly.''
A subsequent study done in West Virginia ``found essentially the same thing,'' she says. Similar studies are under way elsewhere, but results are not yet in.
Would she expect the current studies to produce the same result? ``That's hard to say,'' she says, ``because you have so many variables.'' In many respects foster care programs are much more helpful to children today. Yet many young people are now entering foster care at a much older age, after enduring years of mistreatment or neglect.
In any case, Festinger says that before her study ``the assumption was always that foster care kids would wind up [irreparably] damaged and in jails ... and that they would place their children in foster care. I didn't find that at all, no more than the general population....''
Some of the foster care received by the young people she studied was good, she found, and some was not. But her results were encouraging, perhaps in part because, as she puts it, ``children are more resilient than we give them credit for.''