Development and Psychopathology

Factors influencing maltreated children's early adjustment in foster care

a1 Vanderbilt University


Internal representations of self and primary attachment figures may be one mechanism by which maltreatment affects children's interpersonal behavior and relationships with others. Research on the continuity and influence of maltreated children's attachment representations, however, has not included youngsters removed from abusive or neglectful home environments. This paper examines the influence of maltreated children's maternal and self-representations on subsequent relationships with foster mothers and behavioral adjustment in foster care. Participants included 32 children, ages 9–13 years, who entered foster placement for the first time after a sustained relationship with a maltreating biological mother. Upon initially entering foster care, children's maternal and self-representations were significantly related to each other and to severity of maltreatment history but not to other factors believed to influence the quality of parent–child relationship (e.g., maternal mental health, partner stability). In addition, these representations significantly predicted children's subsequent views of their relationships with foster mothers. Finally, children's behavior in their foster homes was associated with maltreatment severity, internal representations assessed at entry into foster care, and to concurrent perceptions of their new foster mothers. These findings advance our understanding of foster placement's role in maltreated children's development and provide preliminary insight into the processes associated with the formation of potentially compensatory relationships.

c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Stephanie E. Milan, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Box 512, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203;