Placing abused children in foster homes is not enough to overcome the developmental damage caused by the abuse, a study of school children concludes.

Even eight years after being placed in foster care, the children continued to perform poorly in school, leading two doctors to conclude that "there appears to be no rehabilitative effect of foster care as measured by subsequent school performance."

In a joint research project of the University of North Carolina and the University of Maryland, the school records of 96 abused children placed in foster care were compared with those of 69 who remained in their original home.

Although school attendance went up sharply for children in foster care, their grades were only slightly better than those who remained with their parents. In the foster care group 44 percent were getting passing grades, compared with 32 percent in the home group, a difference the researchers did not consider significant.

"This report dramatizes the complexity of the problem facing social workers," Dr. Desmond K. Runyan and Dr. Carolyn L. Gould write in the journal Pediatrics. "The foster children in this study were more likely to improve their school attendance than the home care children, although the evidence for a parallel improvement in school performance is missing."

"Foster care with the 'rescue' of the child from the abusing or neglecting family," they conclude, "is not in itself a sufficient treatment for the child victim."