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June 2007Vol. 8, No. 5Developmental Services for Young Children in Foster Care

A study in the Journal of Social Service Research examined the extent to which child welfare and intervention agencies identify and help prevent developmental delays in high-risk young children entering foster care. Previous research has shown that children in foster care often have elevated rates of developmental delay, compared to children in the general population. Children ages 0 to 5 are especially vulnerable, given the increased brain activity and growth occurring during these first years.

Drawing on interviews with agency administrators and published policies from agencies in 83 counties that formed a national probability sample, researchers found that a high percentage of children in foster care were eligible for early intervention for developmental delay but did not receive adequate therapy. Approximately half of the counties had comprehensive screening policies for children in foster care, and two-thirds of the counties referred children for intervention when services were indicated. However, many of the larger counties did not have comprehensive screening policies, leaving the majority of children without screening for developmental delay.

This study examines challenges and possible solutions related to screening for developmental delays and accessing developmental services for children in foster care. Recommendations include:

  • Adoption of comprehensive screening policies by counties
  • Consistent training for those performing the screenings, including training in the use of standardized measurement tools
  • Better coordination with foster parents, since those parents are often required to contact the service agency
  • Better tracking of children's referrals and services as they move through foster care

"Developmental Services for Young Children in Foster Care: Assessment and Service Delivery," by Aubyn Stahmer, Laurel Leslie, John Landsverk, Jinjin Zhang, and Jennifer Rolls, was published in the Journal of Social Service Research, 33(2), 27–36. It is available for purchase online: