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Foster Care Chilren and their Mental Health

November 2, 2012

The foster care system has been one with many controversies over the years. Some people can’t stand the system and others love that it takes children out of unsafe places. The mental health of children that are going into and coming out of the foster care system has also been an important topic of discussion. Many have wondered if these children are being placed into foster homes with mental illnesses already relevant or if it is the foster homes that are creating them. Having worked with children and youth that have come from foster homes or who have spent some amount of time in one or many had raised my interest in this topic.

There are millions of children that are placed or are living in a foster care home every day. Most if not all of these children are coming into the system after experiencing some kind of trauma, whether it be neglect, abuse, or death of their parents.  In this article they discuss the importance of assessing children’s mental health, development, and educational ability before placing them into a home. It also places importance on early treatment to prevent poor outcomes in these areas. Children in foster care, as stated in the article, are exposed to many risks that put them in danger of having poor educational and mental health outcomes. Part of the problem is the fact that there is little treatment in the foster system. Another contributing factor to these problems is the fact that children in foster care are not in very stable situations. The instability puts them at risk for mental illnesses and also sets them up for failure in school and academics. Children are then later put out into the world with little skills on how to survive. This then leads many of them to become homeless or incapable of holding a job due to the barriers that there mental health creates.

 I was more interested in seeing what types of mental health disorders children in foster care suffered from. When it comes to foster children there are many studies that had found that over half of them may experience one or more mental disorders (Bruskas). Children were found to have suffered from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and social problems. I found PTSD to be controversial because as we learned in class there are some that would argue that PTSD is not a mental illness but instead is an appropriate response to some traumatic events. Either way that they diagnose it does not matter to me but I do believe that to some degree it needs to be treated, preferably with therapy. Children in foster care though are getting little to no treatment for these issues. In a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health only 4%, in their sample of children in foster care that had the worst symptoms, were receiving mental health care while 84% did not have any services provided (Bruskas). This is a substantial amount of children that are going through the system and being spit out at the end without even dipping into the trauma of how they got there or what they have experienced before coming there. After working in social services for the past couple years I have learned that there is this stigma on children in foster care. They are often believed to be broken and sometimes unworthy but after hearing these statistics I see why these stigmas are in place. Children are not being provided with the tools or treatment to break free of these stigmas.


Kaitlin Richards

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 2, 2012 7:24 am

    I too have worked with foster children and Child Welfare. In Oregon there are several programs available for children with high risk behaviors (Jasper Mountain is here in Lane county) and even some, such as the Independent Living Program, that help foster children develop skills they would need to know when they age out of the system. Also, therapy is mandated for all foster children under the age of 13. While there are several faults in the system, I would be interested to see what the statistics are for states with programs like those in Oregon. The state always tries to place a child with a relative who becomes certified as a foster parent. Do you think they are factored into the data? If so, does abuse and neglect get properly screened for that relative, or is it taking the best of two bad circumstances?

    Elizabeth Reyes

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