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Rights Conceptions of Maltreated Children Living in State Care

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Although research on children's thinking about children's rights has increased over the past few decades, there has been virtually no study of children with maltreatment histories who live in state care. This group is particularly vulnerable, having suffered profound violations of their right to security at the hands of their caregivers and often residing in non-kinship settings. We examined conceptions and attitudes about nurturance and self-determination rights in 100 10-18-year-old maltreated children living in state care in Toronto, Canada. Participants demonstrated a more accurate definition of a right than typically-developing youth in previous studies. Rights that were salient related predominantly to participants' current – rather than historical – circumstances. However, compared to nonmaltreated children in previous research, there was a greater focus on rights related to protection and access to basic needs, which suggests that basic issues of protection and provision are still quite relevant in their lives. While type of maltreatment did not relate to participants' thinking about rights, differences emerged between youth living in foster care and group homes. In general, rights that appeared salient to participants had an aspirational quality in that they related to opportunities or benefits that they deemed important but may not have experienced. Theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.

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Affiliations: 1: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto; 2: City University of New York


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