Foster Care and Mental Health

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Foster Care and Mental Health

Foster Care Awareness Month and Mental Health Awareness Month both occur in May, a profound time to recognize the significantly high rate of mental health struggles that harm children placed in the foster care system. Many children and adolescents experience an array of mental health issues that make their journey through the system even more challenging. We expose the destructive relationship between foster care and mental health and discuss how mental health awareness can help kids experience a safer and more joyful life.

Increased Risk, Decreased Support

Research shows a strong correlation between mental health and the various challenges that children in foster care face. These kids and youth often experience multiple home placements, instability, and a lack of consistent, nurturing relationships. In many cases, a child will experience more than one of these situations, further compounding their trauma. Some potential effects include:

  • Increased risk for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Higher likelihood of substance abuse and self-harming behaviors
  • Difficulties forming and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Struggles with self-esteem and identity development

A significant number of children in foster care have experienced trauma, neglect, or abuse and may face additional trauma and hardship while in the system. These circumstances lead to mental illness at a higher rate than most. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in 2019 that “up to 80 percent of children in foster care have significant mental health issues, compared to approximately 18-22 percent of the general population.”

Children in foster care suffer from issues such as anxiety disorders, ADHD, mood disorders (including depression and bipolar disorder), PTSD, and conduct and oppositional defiant disorders. The long-term effects can contribute to future difficulties, including further health issues, lack of personal relationships, difficulty finding employment, and a shorter life expectancy. Sadly, research conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia revealed that kids and youth in foster care are 42% more likely to pass away than children in the general population, largely due to a lack of medical and social services.

Fighting the Foster Care Mental Health Crisis

The importance of recognizing mental health issues in a child as early as possible cannot be stressed enough. To ensure the well-being and future success of these kids, one way to combat these challenges is through increased mental health awareness. The more foster families and social workers become familiar with the symptoms, the more likely preventative steps and timely treatment can be provided. Events such as the Foster Care and Mental Health Awareness Months also provide a special opportunity to spread the word.

By understanding the unique needs of children in foster care, we can advocate for better access to mental health services and promote trauma-informed care within the system. Ongoing education and resources for foster parents and other caregivers encourages positive and nurturing relationships between them and the kids. All of these steps provide a solution that addresses the mental health need holistically. Because a well-rounded solution exponentially increases the chance for a positive turnout, For Others partners with several organizations providing much-needed counseling and support services for kids and families. Among those are Chosen with their trauma-informed counseling and Lifeline, who provide a state-approved parenting class called Families Count that includes trauma education.

This month—and throughout the year—it’s crucial to address the mental health needs of these vulnerable children. By promoting mental health awareness and providing adequate resources and support, we can help ensure a brighter future for the thousands of children in the foster care system.

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