Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1135–1150 | Cite as

The Role of Placement History and Current Family Environment in Children’s Aggression in Foster Care

Original Paper


Predictors of the physical and relational aggressive behavior of children in foster care were examined (N = 160, 50.9% male, M age = 7.57, SD = 2.39). First, predictors representative of children’s placement histories were examined in relation to the children’s aggression at T1. Next, predictors representing characteristics of the current family environment were examined in relation to the children’s aggression at T2 (4 months later). Results revealed that a greater number of prior group home placements and being in a non-kinship home were associated with higher physical aggression at T1. A greater number of prior group home placements, a fewer number of regular home placements, being in a non-kinship home, and prior removal from the home due to neglect were associated with higher relational aggression at T1. The results also revealed that higher foster sibling relational aggression at T1 predicted lower child physical aggression at T2. If foster siblings were biological children of the foster parent, higher levels of a foster sibling’s physical aggression at T1 predicted reduced child physical aggression at T2. The opposite pattern was observed if foster siblings were not biological children of the foster parent. Lastly, longer time in the current placement, more children in the home, and the presence of a sibling that was a biological child of the parent predicted higher child relational aggression at T2. These findings provide initial insights into how placement history and current family environment are associated with the physical and relational aggressive behavior of children in foster care.


Relational aggression Physical aggression Foster care Sibling aggression Kinship care Foster children Sibling relationships 



This research was supported by the following grants: R01 MH060195 and is funded by the NIH. The authors would like to thank Norma Talmantes for project management and the research assistants who assisted in data collection, management, and intervention work. We would also like to thank Dr. Jamie Ostrov for consultation on the aggression measures and tables. Special thanks to the families for their participation.


This study was funded by R01 MH060195.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist/4-18 and 1991 Profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA School?-Age Forms & Profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth, and Families.Google Scholar
  3. Akcinar, B., & Baydar, N. (2016). Development of externalizing behaviors in the context of family and non-family relationships. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1848–1859. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0375-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Buist, K. L., & Vermande, M. (2014). Sibling relationship patterns and their associations with child competence and problem behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 529–537. doi: 10.1037/a0036990.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Button, D. M., & Gealt, R. (2010). High risk behaviors among victims of sibling violence. Journal of Family Violence, 25, 131–140. doi: 10.1007/s10896-009-9276-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Casas, J. F., Weigel, S. M., Crick, N. R., Ostrov, J. M., Woods, K. E., Jansen Yeh, E. A., & Huddleston-Casas, C. A. (2006). Early parenting and children’s relational and physical aggression in the preschool and home contexts. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 209–227. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.02.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chamberlain, P., Price, J. M., Reid, J. B., Landsverk, J., Fisher, P. A., & Stoolmiller, M. (2006). Who disrupts from placement in foster and kinship care? Child Abuse & Neglect, 30, 409–424. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2005.11.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheung, C., Goodman, D., Leckie, G., & Jenkins, J. (2011). Understanding contextual effects on externalizing behaviors in children in out-of-home care: Influence of workers and foster families. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 2050–2060. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.05.036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clausen, J. M., Landsverk, J., Ganger, W., Chadwick, D., & Litrownik, A. (1998). Mental health problems of children in foster care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 7, 283–296. doi: 10.1023/A:1022989411119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cooley, M., Wojciak, A. S., Farineau, H., & Mullis, A. (2015). The association between perception of relationship with caregivers and behaviours of youth in foster care: A child and caregiver perspective. Journal of Social Work Practice, 29, 205–221. doi: 10.1080/02650533.2014.933405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Crick, N. R., & Grotpeter, J. K. (1995). Relational aggression, gender, and social-psychological adjustment. Child Development, 66, 710–722. doi: 10.2307/1131945.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Crick, N. R., Nelson, D. A., Morales, J. R., Cullerton-Sen, C., Casas, J. F., & Hickman, S. E. (2001). Relational victimization in childhood and adolescence: I hurt you through the grapevine. In J. Juvonen, S. Graham, J. Juvonen, S. Graham (Eds.), Peer harassment in school: The plight of the vulnerable and victimized (pp. 196–214). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  14. Crick, N. R., Ostrov, J. M., Burr, J. E., Cullerton-Sen, C., Jansen-Yeh, E., & Ralston, P. (2006). A longitudinal study of relational and physical aggression in preschool. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 254–268. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.02.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crick, N. R., & Zahn-Waxler, C. (2003). The development of psychopathology in females and males: Current progress and future challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 719–742. doi: 10.1017/S095457940300035X.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Cullerton-Sen, C., Cassidy, A. R., Murray-Close, D., Cicchetti, D., Crick, N. R., & Rogosch, F. A. (2008). Childhood maltreatment and the development of relational and physical aggression: The importance of a gender-informed approach. Child Development, 79, 1736–1751. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01222.x.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Dishion, T. J. (2014). A developmental model of aggression and violence: Microsocial and macrosocial dynamics within an ecological framework. In: M. Lewis, K. D. Rudolph, M. Lewis, K. D. Rudolph (Eds.), Handbook of developmental psychopathology (pp. 449–465). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media. 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dishion, T. J., McCord, J., & Poulin, F. (1999). When interventions harm: Peer groups and problem behavior. American Psychologist, 54, 755–764. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.54.9.755.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Dodge, K. A., Coie, J. D., & Lynam, D. (2006). Aggression and Antisocial Behavior in Youth. In: N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, R. M. Lerner, N. Eisenberg, W. Damon, R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 3, Social, emotional, and personality development (pp. 719–788). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc. 6.Google Scholar
  20. Downey, D. B. (2001). Number of siblings and intellectual development: The resource dilution explanation. American Psychologist, 56, 497–504. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.56.6-7.497.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Dunn, J., & Munn, P. (1986). Sibling quarrels and maternal intervention: Individual differences in understanding and aggression. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 27, 583–595. doi: 10.1111/j.14697610.1986.tb00184.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Faris, R., & Felmlee, D. (2011). Status struggles: Network centrality and gender segregation in same- and cross gender aggression. American Sociological Review, 76, 48–73. doi: 10.1177/0003122410396196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Font, S. A. (2015). Is higher placement stability in kinship foster care by virtue or design? Child Abuse & Neglect, 42, 99–111. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.01.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gelman, A., & Hill, J. (2007). Missing-data imputation procedures. Data analysis using regression and multilevel/hierarchical models. New York: Cambridge University Press 529–544.Google Scholar
  25. Goldstein, S., & Boxer, P. (2013). Parenting practices and the early socialization of relational aggression among preschoolers. Early Child Development and Care, 183, 1559–1575. doi: 10.1080/03004430.2012.738200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gosselin, J., Romano, E., Bell, T., Babchishin, L., Buhs, Id, Gagné, A., & Gosselin, N. (2014). Canadian portrait of changes in family structure and preschool children’s behavioral outcomes. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 38, 518–528. doi: 10.1177/0165025414535121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grotpeter, J. K., & Crick, N. R. (1996). Relational aggression, overt aggression, and friendship. Child Development, 67, 2328–2338. doi: 10.2307/1131626.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Harden, B., & Whittaker, J. (2011). The early home environment and developmental outcomes for young children in the child welfare system. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1392–1403. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2011.04.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Henington, C., Hughes, J. N., Cavell, T. A., & Thompson, B. (1998). The role of relational aggression in identifying aggressive boys and girls. Journal of School Psychology, 36, 457–477. doi: 10.1016/S00224405(98)00015-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Herrenkohl, T. I., Catalano, R. F., Hemphill, S. A., & Toumbourou, J. W. (2009). Longitudinal examination of physical and relational aggression as precursors to later problem behaviors in adolescents. Violence and Victims, 24, 3–19. doi: 10.1891/0886-6708.24.1.3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoffman, K. L., Kiecolt, K. J., & Edwards, J. N. (2005). Physical violence between siblings: A theoretical and empirical analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 26, 1103–1130. doi: 10.1177/0192513X05277809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Keil, V., & Price, J. M. (2006). Externalizing behavior disorders in child welfare settings: Definition, prevalence, and implications for assessment and treatment. Children and Youth Services Review, 28, 761–779. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2005.08.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Keller, T. E., Wetherbee, K., LeProhn, N. S., Payne, V., Sim, K., & Lamont, E. R. (2001). Competencies and problem behaviors of children in family foster care: Variations by kinship placement status and race. Children and Youth Services Review, 23, 915–940. doi: 10.1016/S0190-7409(01)00175-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kotch, J. B., Lewis, T., Hussey, J. M., English, E., Thompson, R., Litrownik, A. J., Runyan, D. K., Bangdiwala, S. I., Margolis, B., & Dubowitz, H. (2008). Importance of early neglect for childhood aggression. Pediatrics, 121, 725–731. doi: 10.1542/peds.2006-3622.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Lee, B. R., & Thompson, R. (2009). Examining externalizing behavior trajectories of youth in group homes: Is there evidence for peer contagion? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 31–44. doi: 10.1007/s10802-008-9254-4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Linares, L. O., Li, M., & Shrout, P. E. (2012). Child training for physical aggression? Lessons from foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 2416–2422. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.08.010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Little, T. D., Jones, S. M., Henrich, C. C., & Hawley, P. H. (2003). Disentangling the ‘whys’ from the ‘whats’ of aggressive behaviour. International Journal Of Behavioral Development, 27, 122–133. doi: 10.1080/01650250244000128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McAuley, C. (2000). Children’s adjustment over time in foster care: Cross-informant agreement, stability and placement disruption. British Journal of Social Work, 30, 91–107. doi: 10.1093/bjsw/30.1.91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McWey, L. M., Cui, M., & Pazdera, A. L. (2010). Changes in externalizing and internalizing problems of adolescents in foster care. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 1128–1140. doi: 10.1111/j.17413737.2010.00754.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Megahead, H. A., & Soliday, E. (2013). Developing a conceptual framework of foster family placement. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 24, 48–63. doi: 10.1080/08975353.2013.762868.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Michiels, D., Grietens, H., Onghena, P., & Kuppens, S. (2008). Parent-child interactions and relational aggression in peer relationships. Developmental Review, 28, 522–540. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2008.08.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Morton, N., & Browne, K. D. (1998). Theory and observation of attachment and its relation to child maltreatment: A review. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22, 1093–1104. doi: 10.1016/S0145-2134(98)00088-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Neal, J. W. (2009). Network ties and mean lies: A relational approach to relational aggression. Journal of Community Psychology, 37, 737–753. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Newton, R., Litrownik, A. J., & Landsverk, J. A. (2000). Children and youth in foster care: Disentangling the relationship between problem behaviors and number of placements. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 1363–1374. doi: 10.1016/S0145-2134(00)00189-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ostrov, J. M., Crick, N. R., & Stauffacher, K. (2006). Relational aggression in sibling and peer relationships during early childhood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 27, 241–253. doi: 10.1016/j.appdev.2006.02.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Patterson, G. R., Dishion, T. J., & Bank, L. (1984). Family interaction: A process model of deviancy training. Aggressive Behavior, 10, 253–267. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1984)10:3<253::AID-AB2480100309>3.0.CO;2-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Polan, J. C., Sieving, R. E., & McMorris, B. J. (2013). Are young adolescents’ social and emotional skills protective against involvement in violence and bullying behaviors? Health Promotion Practice, 14, 599–606. doi: 10.1177/1524839912462392.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Salas, M. D., García-Martín, M. Á., Fuentes, M. J., & Bernedo, I. M. (2015). Children’s emotional and behavioral problems in the foster family context. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24, 1373–1383. doi: 10.1007/s10826-014-9944-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Serbinski, S. (2015). Growing up with foster siblings: Exploring the impacts of fostering on the children of foster parents. Qualitative Social Work, doi: 10.1177/1473325015599247
  50. Shackman, J. E., & Pollak, S. D. (2014). Impact of physical maltreatment on the regulation of negative affect and aggression. Development and Psychopathology, 26, 1021–1033. doi: 10.1017/S0954579414000546.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  51. Tackett, J. L., & Ostrov, J. M. (2010). Measuring relational aggression in middle childhood in a multi-informant multi-method study. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32, 490–500. doi: 10.1007/s10862-010-9184-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tafoya, M. A., & Hamilton, M. A. (2012). Relational dynamics and the expression of aggression and comforting between siblings. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 31, 49–74. doi: 10.1177/0261927X11425035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tarren-Sweeney, M. (2008). Retrospective and concurrent predictors of the mental health of children in care. Children and Youth Services Review, 30, 1–25. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2007.05.014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Teisl, M., & Cicchetti, D. (2008). Physical abuse, cognitive and emotional processes, and aggressive/disruptive behavior problems. Social Development, 17, 1–23. doi: 1-23.2008-00719-001.Google Scholar
  55. Twigg, R., & Swan, T. (2007). Inside the foster family: What research tells us about the experience of foster carers’ children. Adoption & Fostering, 31, 49–61. doi: 10.1177/030857590703100407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Underwood, M. K., Beron, K. J., Gentsch, J. K., Galperin, M. B., & Risser, S. D. (2008). Interparental conflict resolution strategies, parenting styles, and children’s and physical aggression with peers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32, 566–579. doi: 10.1177/0165025408097134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Updegraff, K. A., Thayer, S. M., Whiteman, S. D., Denning, D. J., & McHale, S. M. (2005). Relational Aggression in Adolescents’ Sibling Relationships: Links to Sibling and Parent Adolescent Relationship Quality. Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 54, 373–385. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2005.00324.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Walker, H. M., & McConnell, S. R. (1995). The walker-mcconnell scale of social competence and school adjustment. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.Google Scholar
  59. Wright, M. F., Li, Y., & Shi, J. (2014). Chinese adolescents’ social status goals: Associations with behaviors and attributions for relational aggression. Youth & Society, 46, 566–588. doi: 10.1177/0044118X12448800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zima, B. T., Bussing, R., Freeman, S., Yang, X., Belin, T. R., & Forness, S. R. (2000). Behavior problems, academic skill delays and school failure among school-aged children in foster care: Their relationship to placement characteristics. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9, 87–103. doi: 10.1023/A:1009415800476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity at Buffalo, State University of New YorkBuffaloUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations