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  • May 2017
  • Vol. 18, No. 3

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Study Examines Mental, Physical Health of Children in Foster Care

Either due to experiencing maltreatment or other risk factors, children in foster care often experience more depression and anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental delays, asthma, and obesity than children who have not been placed in foster care. A recent article in the journal Pediatrics, "Mental and Physical Health of Children in Foster Care," reports on a study that examined and compared the mental and physical health of children placed in foster care with the health of children in the general population.

The study was conducted using data from the 2011–2012 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH), a nationally representative sample of 95,677 noninstitutionalized children in the United States. The study's main goal was to compare parent-reported mental and physical health outcomes of children placed in foster care, children adopted from foster care, children from specific family types (e.g., single-mother households), and children from economically disadvantaged households.

The study measured children's mental and physical health; activity limitations due to a medical, behavioral, or mental condition; and diagnosis of a variety of conditions, such as a learning disability, ADHD, depression or anxiety, behavioral problems, developmental delay, asthma, obesity, speech or language problems, or hearing or vision problems.

The results of the study support three main findings:

  • Children placed in foster care had more mental and physical health conditions than children not placed in foster care. For example, children placed in foster care were approximately twice as likely to have a learning disability and three times as likely to have ADHD. They were also twice as likely to have asthma and speech problems and three times as likely to have hearing or vision problems.
  • Although some mental and physical health outcome differences were explained by demographic characteristics of children placed in foster care and their households, many of the mental health differences still persisted after adjusting for these child and household characteristics, which suggests that foster care placement may have an effect on mental health.
  • Children in foster care experienced poorer mental and physical health compared with children in every other type of family or household situation, including those in economically disadvantaged homes.

This study's findings are noteworthy because they show, for the first time, that children in foster care have significantly poorer mental and physical health than children in the general population.

Read "Mental and Physical Health of Children in Foster Care," by Kristin Turney and Christopher Wildeman, Pediatrics, 138(5), 2016, at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2016/10/14/peds.2016-1118.full.pdf (669 KB).
 

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