Foster care children’s state of mental health
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Ensuring the healthy development of a growing child is a process that requires many contributing factors. One of these important aspects is a child’s parents and the quality of care they provide. Especially during the critical years of childhood, particular disruptions to an offspring’s life can have significant effects on his or her future. For some, a conflictive home environment or abuse may be responsible for adulthood turmoil. For others, these formative years may lack abuse but also a parent or even both parents, determining what happens in the case of a foster child from a psychological perspective.

The alumni of foster care

In the last decade, a focus on those who graduate from foster families and enter adult life has risen in research. According to the latest data from the Casey National Alumni Study of foster services, an unfortunate trend of mental illness is tied to these alumni of alternative care. Among the report’s measured mental health disorders, the number of diagnosed individuals was greater in populations from foster families than those from traditional families. Some notable disproportions include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: 4.5 percent of the general population and 21.5 percent of foster care alumni
  • Panic disorder: 3.6 percent of the general population and 11.4 percent of foster care alumni
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: 5.1 percent of the general population and 9.4 percent of foster care alumni
  • Drug dependence: 0.5 percent of the general population and 3.6 percent of foster care alumni

It might prove difficult to identify what exactly causes deviations from normal mental health development within foster care, as many children brought into the system come from varying circumstances. Some are removed from their homes to prevent immediate harm or protect them from an environment of drug culture. Studies show that separating a child from these problematic living situations is a better alternative, as infants placed in the care of close relatives or foster parents result in no instances of death, abuse or neglect.

Current challenges and necessary changes in the system

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in foster care is dealing with attachment. Depending on the parenting style of an individual’s guardian figure, a child will grow up with a secure or insecure attachment with that figure. While establishing distance between a child and maltreating parents is a better plan than the alternative, one of the most drastic impacts to securing a generational bond is by separating a child from his or her biological parents.

The first part of this obstacle is forming a positive relationship with one’s new caregivers. A general increase in mental health problems and emergencies is also linked with establishing new relationships with foster parents. However, past research has also demonstrated that infants and toddlers eventually view their new caregivers who provide for their needs as their primary attachment figure. Sometimes the problem of attachment may center on reuniting with parents after bonding with a new family.

The next step in fortifying a foster child’s attachment style is creating and maintaining an open communication with the biological parent. In experimental observations, the benefits of letting mothers in incarceration or residential treatments for substance abuse consistently see their children are evident. Due to the national Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), the amount of attachment disruptions in foster care is severely reduced. In addition to constructing a primary plan for a child to meet and reunite with a biological parent over time, a simultaneous, alternative plan is also created in case reunification fails. In short, a child needs a healthy relationship with his or her biological and foster guardians to develop a balanced state of mental health.

So far, the current system endorses the active integration of a child’s genetic family as well as the foster family. However, further changes to mental health treatments are still encouraged by various studies. First of all, organizations from the Child Welfare League of America to the American Academy of Pediatrics support the screening of children before entering the system so that any warranted mental or developmental health interventions are administered as soon as possible. Second, medical insurances need to expand their coverage for foster children so that affordable treatment plans can be utilized for long-term management.

Lastly, a particularly overlooked consequence of changing families and homes is the child’s education. In addition to a link between foster placement instability and negative health outcomes, moving through different schools can especially disrupt performance in school due to changing standards, systems and social relationships. A 2005 study shows that many in foster care opt to receive a GED rather than a high school diploma, which is associated with lower wage earnings and a lower chance of completing college-level education.

Sovereign Health Group is a treatment provider that excels in confronting mental health and substance addiction for all sorts of statewide demographics. For the undeniable rate of children aging out of the foster system, extra psychological support can offer the safety and satisfaction one needs to function in the world. If you or someone you know is struggling after a foster care situation, contact Sovereign anytime by phone or online chat to get resources for recovery.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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