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October 2005Vol. 6, No. 8Mental Health Services for Adolescents in Foster Care

Adolescents in out-of-home care are at greater risk of mental health problems than children in the general population because of past histories of child abuse and neglect, separation from biological parents, and placement instability. A recent study examined the degree to which the need for mental health services influences the actual use of mental health services by older children in foster care. In this study, 113 older youth (aged 16.5-17.5 years) in foster care participated in face-to-face interviews and were assessed with two measures of need for mental health services. A State child welfare administrative database provided records on the youths' placement, duration of care, and demographic information.

The study confirmed that rates of mental health need were higher among the foster youth than the general population and that a substantial number of adolescents in foster care who needed mental health care did not receive any mental health services. Some of the specific findings showed that:

  • Foster youth were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, loss of behavioral and/or emotional control, and poor psychological well-being than adolescents in the general population.
  • While 50 percent of youth in foster care had received mental health services at some point, the actual use of services was only partially associated with need for services.
  • Youth who had histories of child abuse, anxiety, or poor psychological well-being, or who had spent a longer time in out-of-home care, were significantly more likely to have used mental health services.

The study, "Need for and Actual Use of Mental Health Service by Adolescents in the Child Welfare System," by S. H. Shin, can be found in the October 2005 issue of Children and Youth Services Review: An International Multidisciplinary Review of the Welfare of Young People. The study is available online at