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Child & Youth Care Forum


Treatment foster care, Group care, Delinquency, Crime, Overview, Meta-analysis


Background: Evidence of treatment foster care (TFC) and group care’s (GC) potential to prevent delinquency and crime has been developing.

Objectives: We clarified the state of comparative knowledge with a historical overview. Then we explored the hypothesis that smaller, probably better resourced group homes with smaller staff/resident ratios have greater impacts than larger homes with a meta-analytic update.

Methods: Research literatures were searched to 2015. Five systematic reviews were selected that included seven independent studies that compared delinquency or crime outcomes among youths ages 10–18. A similar search augmented by author and bibliographic searches identified six additional studies with an updated meta-analysis. Discrete effects were analyzed with sample-weighted preventive fractions (PF) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI).

Results: Compared with GC, TFC was estimated to prevent nearly half of delinquent or criminal acts over 1–3 years (PF = 0.56, 95 % CI 0.50, 0.64). Two pooled study outcomes tentatively suggested that GC in homes with less than ten youths may prevent delinquency and crime better than TFC, p = 0.08. Study designs were non-equivalent or randomized trials that were typically too small to ensure controlled comparisons.

Conclusions: These synthetic findings are best thought of as preliminary hypotheses. Confident knowledge will require their testing with large, perhaps multisite, controlled trials. Such a research agenda will undoubtedly be quite expensive, but it holds the promise of knowledge dividends that could prevention much suffering among youths, their families and society.




The final publication is available at Springer via