Health In Focus
  • The foster care system is meant to provide care and protection to children and adolescents taken out of their family of origin due to abuse and/or neglect.
  • In most cases, foster care is a temporary arrangement till the children are reunited with their parents or guardian, or an alternate permanent suitable living arrangement is found.
  • Children placed in foster homes have to cope with numerous disruptions in their attachment relationships, especially if frequent changes in foster homes occur.
  • Foster care placement may be a risk factor for development of physical and emotional health problems in childhood.

Children who have been in the U.S. foster care system have a significantly higher incidence of mental and physical health issues, according to a University of California, Irvine sociologist.

Aim of the Study

This study aims to compare the physical and mental well-being of kids who have been in foster homes with that of kids in the general population.
Children in Foster Care Have Higher Risk of Physical and Mental Health Issues

"No previous research has considered how the mental and physical well-being of children who have spent time in foster care compares to that of children in the general population," said study co-author Kristin Turney, UCI associate professor of sociology. "This work makes an important contribution to the research community by showing for the first time that foster care children are in considerably worse health than other children. Our findings also present serious implications for pediatricians by suggesting that foster care placement is a risk factor for health problems in childhood."

Findings of the Study

Turney and co-author Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis & management at Cornell University, assessed data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health. More than 900,000 kids included in the survey, of which 1.3 percent were established to have been in foster homes. The authors claim that the studyis the first large scale research to have compared a nationally representative sample of children in the US.

Foster care children were matched against children who did not spend time in foster care, those who had been adopted from foster homes and those living in various other family arrangements, such as single-mother and economically disadvantaged households. Employing logistic regression models, the researchers found that children who had been in foster care were:
  • Seven times more probable to experience depression
  • Six times more likely to show behavioral problems
  • Five times more risk of suffering from anxiety
  • Three times more likely to have attention deficit disorder, hearing and visual problems
  • Twice as likely to have learning disabilities, asthma, obesity, developmental delays, and speech problems.
"This is typically a difficult-to-reach population, so having access to descriptive statistics on their living arrangements, physical well-being and behavior provided an excellent opportunity to help identify the health challenges they face," Turney said. "This study expands our understanding of the mental and physical health of these highly vulnerable children, but we must take a closer look if we are to understand how foster care really affects child well-being."

Possible Ways of Improving Foster Care Outcomes In Children

Physical health issues, though bothersome might be easier to treat in the long run. However, the emotional and mental health issues will have far reaching effects on the child and need more urgent addressing.
  • Child specialists treating foster care children may need help from mental health professionals trained in trauma-informed care to correctly diagnose and treat such children. A mental health assessment should be performed as soon as possible within placing a child in foster care, preferably within thirty days, with periodic follow-up.
  • The healthcare of this population is challenging, due to the transient nature of this system and the dispersal of authority among parents, child welfare professionals, and the courts. Proper co-ordination is needed among the various persons and institutions involved.
  • Another major concern that has to be dealt with includes lack of health data, consent and confidentiality barriers, inadequate funding and interminable waits for community-based medical, dental, and mental health care services.
  • As much as possible, the children should receive the type of care obtainable in a family setting. The foster mother should be responsive to the physical and emotional needs of the child.
Foster care should be ideally for as short a duration as possible before a permanent solution is found. Longer periods in foster care or frequent bouncing from one foster care to another will surely affect the child adversely.

References :
  1. Journal Issue: Children, Families, and Foster Care - (§ionid=874)
Source: Medindia

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