An interesting study of foster care asked 503 youth in foster care about their experiences of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. The results were somewhat surprising, in that the participants reported the highest or second-highest levels of abuse from peers. Foster youth in residential placements also reported more peer abuse than those in foster homes.
With the caveat that this is a small study of self-reported experiences, there are two takeaways for youth organizations. First, our child protection policies need to place a high emphasis on preventing peer abuse. Many organizations spend a lot of time and attention on preventing abuse by adults in the program because those are the cases that get the most media attention. We definitely need to prevent adult-on-child abuse. Child-on-child abuse, however, is almost as common, and in the case of sexual abuse, more frequent. So we need to keep both of these situations as high priorities.
The second concern is that group homes pose high risks for foster youth. There is no simple solution, such as just putting foster children in ordinary foster homes, because most children in congregate care are there because ordinary foster homes can't handle their complex needs. Helping these foster youth will require a lot of money for mental health care and multiple resources for multiple issues.
This is only one study, so it's not definitive. But it raises questions that our child welfare system and youth organizations need to pay attention to in order to safely care for the kids we serve.