October 17, 2016
2 min read

Children in foster care more likely to have physical, mental health problems

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Physical and mental health problems were significantly more common among children placed in foster care compared with children living in an array of household arrangements.

“Children placed in foster care endure a number of disadvantages, both because of the maltreatment they have endured and other risk factors associated with their placement, including poverty, parental drug and alcohol abuse, neighborhood disadvantage, and epigenetics. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that children in foster care experience more depression/anxiety, ADHD, and behavioral/conduct problems than children living with two biological parents and children living with never-married biological single mothers,” Kristin Turney, PhD, of University of California, Irvine, and Christopher Wildeman, PhD, of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, wrote.

To compare parent-reported mental and physical health outcomes among children placed in foster care, adopted from foster care, across specific family types and in economically disadvantaged families, researchers analyzed data from the 2011 to 2012 National Survey of Children’s Health.

Compared with children not placed in foster care, children placed in foster care were more likely to be in fair or poor health (4.2% vs. 3.1%) and have activity limitations (9.8% vs. 4.8%); twice as likely to have learning disabilities (14.7% vs. 7.6%), developmental delays (7.3% vs. 3.4%), asthma (18% vs. 8.7%), obesity (24.1% vs. 15.7%), and speech problems (11.2% vs 4.7%); three times as likely to have ADD/ADHD (21.8% vs. 7.4%), hearing problems (3.9% vs. 1.2%), and vision problems (3.4% vs. 1.3%); five times as likely to have anxiety (14.2% vs. 3.1%); six times as likely to have behavioral problems (17.5% vs. 2.9%); and seven times as likely to have depression (14.2% vs. 2%).

These associations remained when adjusting for child characteristics.

When adjusting for household characteristics, children placed in foster care were more likely to have ADD/ADHD (OR = 3; 95% CI, 1.91-4.71), depression (OR = 4.92; 95% CI, 2.63-9.18), anxiety (OR = 3.94; 95% CI, 2.36-6.6), behavioral or conduct problems (OR = 4.22; 95% CI, 2.59-6.88) and speech or language problems (OR = 1.91; 95% CI, 1.01-3.61).

Analysis adjusting for various child and household characteristics indicated children placed in foster care had higher risk for mental health problems, including ADD/ADHD, depression, anxiety and behavioral or conduct problems, compared with children living in all other types of households, such as households with married biological parents or single mothers or fathers.

“This article makes an important contribution to knowledge in the field by showing, for the first time, that children who are in foster care are in significantly worse mental and physical health than children in the general population. As such, they are indeed a highly vulnerable population of children, something that both previous research and their histories of maltreatment implied, but that has never been demonstrated before,” the researchers concluded. – by Amanda Oldt

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.