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March 2014Vol. 15, No. 3Health-Care Use by Children in Foster Care

Children in foster care are often at higher risk for various physical and mental health problems. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a report outlining a study of Medicaid data from 2010 that compared several health factors between children in foster care who are covered by Medicaid and the general population of children who are covered by Medicaid. These factors include the following:

  • Most common diagnoses
  • Most common comorbidities (for this study, diagnoses that occur within the same year)
  • Use of health and behavioral health-care services

The following are examples of key findings from the report:

  • Across all ages, mental health and substance use diagnoses were more common among children in foster care (49.4 percent mental health disorder and 3.3 percent substance use disorder) compared to children not in foster care (10.9 percent mental health disorder and 0.6 percent substance use disorder).
  • Among children ages 0 to 5 years, children in foster care were more likely to have the following diagnoses than children not in foster care: developmental disorders (16.9 percent vs. 4.1 percent); disorders of the teeth and jaw (13.1 percent vs. 6.4 percent); attention-deficit, conduct, and disruptive disorders (8.7 percent vs. 1.4 percent); and adjustment disorders (7.6 percent vs. 0.5 percent).
  • Among youth ages 12 to 17, those in foster care used mental health services at a much higher rate than those outside of foster care (55.3 percent vs. 16.5 percent).

Diagnoses and Health Care Utilization of Children Who Are in Foster Care and Covered by Medicaid is available on the SAMHSA website: (1 MB)