Finland Study: Preterm Kids More Likely to Be Placed Outside Home

A new Finnish study shows that, compared to children born full-term, those born prematurely (before week 37) are more likely to be placed outside the home as a supportive child welfare measure. In fact, the more premature a child is, the greater the probability that the child will be placed outside the home.
The research, conducted by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), is published in the journal Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.
The increased probability of being placed outside the home is not explained by factors sometimes related to prematurity, such as the socioeconomic status of the parents, age of the parents, or the number or age difference of siblings. In addition, prenatal disorders in the mother or chronic illnesses in the born child have no effect, either.
“Based on this study, prematurity in itself seems to be an independent risk factor for adversity in early childhood,” said Professor Eero Kajantie, who led the study.
The study included all Finnish families who had a live infant following a single pregnancy between 1987 and 1990. Overall, the researchers looked at the data of 193,033 children, their parents and the possible siblings. Of the children, 8,356 were born prematurely and 32,989 at 37-38 weeks of gestation.
In terms of the entire Finnish population, approximately 3 in 100 children are placed outside the home at some stage of their childhood. The new findings reveal that children born preterm are at least one and a half times more likely to be placed outside the home than others.
The likelihood is slightly higher also for children born close to term, such as at 37-38 weeks of gestation. The risk is highest during early childhood (aged 0-5 years), as this is a very straining time for family life. The study found no difference between children born at different weeks of gestation in cases where a child was placed outside the home over age 5.
The study does not attempt to explain why children born preterm and close to term are placed outside the home more likely and at a younger age than others.
“When a child is born preterm, the parents can, for example, feel that their resources, hopes and expectations do not match the challenges of early childhood caused by preterm birth. During the first year, caring for even a moderately preterm infant is substantially different than caring for a full-term child,” said researcher and doctoral student Suvi Alenius.
Families are not necessarily aware of the available support and services, or these measures may be found difficult to access. Getting support often requires an active approach from the parents, for which many may not have the time or resources in their stressful situation.
“It would be important for the social welfare and health care services and, for example, the day care services to better acknowledge that premature birth is a risk factor for abnormal events in early childhood. Timely and easily accessible support can avert problems from occurring in families and, for example, prevent the need for child welfare measures,” Alenius said.
Source: National Institute for Health and Welfare