Conceptualizing secure care for child protection motives: Can placement disruptions in foster care offer stability?

Mathilde Turcotte, Researcher, Institut universitaire du Centre jeunesse de Québec, Canada 

François  Fenchel, Researcher, Université Laval, Canada 

Nadine  Lanctôt, Researcher, Université de Sherbrooke, Canada 

Denis  Lafortune, Researcher Université de Montréal, Canada 

In Canada, seven provinces have provisions under which an adolescent can be placed in so-called “secure care” or “secure treatment” under the Child Protection Act, if he or she caused or attempted to cause serious bodily harm to himself, herself or another person. Such placements are highly contentious since they translate into temporarily moving youth to very restrictive residential settings, even if they have no known or official involvement in delinquency. These debates, however, are not based on actual research on the profiles and trajectories of youth placed in secure care, or on the effects of secure care in general. To explore the conditions and contexts under which secure care is used in the province of Quebec, we analyzed data from various sources: aggregate measures of the evolution of placements in secure care between 2008 and 2017, reasons invoked to request secure care placements, pathways through secure care, as well as qualitative narratives of experiences solicited from youth care workers. Results suggest that the public surveillance of secure care, while necessary, might have unintended impacts. The main ones being: 1) the predomination of an ethic of justice, rather than an ethic of care, in decision-making and intervention related to placements in secure care; 2) confusion over the expected outcomes; and 3) a general reluctance to use secure care that might cause further instability rather than to promote continuity.

Key-words: Secure care, child welfare, youth, placement, stability

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