Children in Foster Care have Higher Risk of Later Developing Physical and Mental Health Problems

For a long time, researchers have suspected that children who were raised in foster care could be more at risk from physical, psychological, and behavioral problems. It is suspected that this could be a result of these children being more likely to have suffered abuse or neglect at some point in their lives, either before or during their time in foster care.

However, until very recently, there had been no studies undertaken which have actually compared the physical and mental health of children who had been raised in foster care and those who had not been on any large scale. This is what researchers from the University of California-Irvine, including Kristin Turney, have tried to remedy. They analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Health’s records from the years 2011-12. This data included information about 900,000 children who were located across the U.S., of whom 1.3% had been in foster care. The results have been published in the journal ‘pediatrics’.

The team found that children who had been in foster care were much more likely to suffer from a wide and varied range of physical and mental problems. For example, they were twice as likely to have asthma or to be obese and they were three times as likely to have vision or hearing problems. Regarding psychological problems, they were twice as likely to suffer from learning disabilities and three times as likely to have attention deficit disorder. They also had a five times greater risk of developing anxiety problems and seven times the risk of developing depression.

This study has serious implications for society as over 650,000 children in the U.S. have spent time in foster care. It is the first time that a major study has been undertaken investigating the link between foster care and the well-being of children and the results make it clear that this is a major risk factor for a huge range of future physical, mental and behavioral problems.

According to Kristen Turney ‘this is typically a difficult-to-reach population, so having access to descriptive statistics on their living arrangements, physical well-being and behavior provided an excellent opportunity to help identify the health challenges they face. This study expands our understanding of the mental and physical health of these highly vulnerable children, but we must take a closer look if we are to understand how foster care really affects child well-being.’

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