Foster care is a challenging environment, and it is taking in many children who are already burdened in a number of ways. And we’re just now starting to study and quantify how foster care affects the health of the children involved. In this piece, we’re going to take a closer at some of the health challenges facing the more than 700,000 children in the foster care system. We’ll also outline some of the potential ways to alleviate the harm that often comes from being bounced around foster homes and the unaddressed issues too many of these children suffer.
An Overview of the Foster Care System – and Foster Kids
Most children entering foster care are truly disadvantaged. They are much more likely to have come from single parents who couldn’t provide a safe, nurturing and stable home environment. Abuse and neglect cause psychological problems, and around seventy percent of children in foster care were abused or neglected.
Another thirty percent of children are placed in foster care by the juvenile justice system, and they have serious mental health needs that are rarely met. Perhaps half eventually return to their birth families. Another 20 percent are adopted. Most of these are adopted by foster parents. And the older the child is, the less likely they are to be adopted. Tragically, nearly a fifth age out of the system without any connection with family. Let’s look at some of the issues these children face.
The Problems They Bring with Them
Neglect and poverty can contribute to serious health problems. For example, medical and dental needs are often unmet before the children are put in foster care. Unfortunately, these children are less likely than average to get proper medical care for existing medical problems, though they’re more likely to have chronic health problems.
They’re twice as likely to have asthma, obesity and speech problems. They are three times as likely to have hearing and vision problems on average. They’re also much more likely to have mental health problems, but it can take months to find a qualified mental health provider for specific disorders. Yet exposure to complex trauma like addiction and abuse creates complex problems for many of these kids. A greater percentage of children in foster care have developmental problems as well. For example, twice as many children in foster care have learning disabilities and developmental delays than the average population. All of this is exacerbated by the unpredictability of foster care and separation from family.
The Challenges in Getting Adequate Health Care
Foster parents regularly struggle to find adequ