Understanding the Issues and Mental Health Treatment of Foster Children

More than half of the children in foster care have some type of mental health disorder, according to the Child Welfare League of America. This means it is important to understand some basic mental health treatment for these foster children. 

Dysfunctional pasts, traumatic separation from family and the instability of temporary foster care commonly cause the mental health issues of foster children.

Why Do Foster Children Have Mental Health Issues?
A foster child's mental health issues often begin long before the child reaches foster care.

Studies show that children who eventually end up in the foster care system are more likely to have been exposed to prenatal risk factors, such as exposure to drugs and alcohol, poor prenatal nutrition and inadequate prenatal care.

Many foster children grew up amid poverty, parental neglect and abuse, homelessness, a home life full of domestic violence and substance abuse and sometimes parents with mental health issues of their own.

Children rescued from these environments enter the foster care system poorly equipped to handle the separation, guilt and instability of being away from their families.

In foster care, children are forced to deal with the instability of living with a new family. Temporary foster care means that children are often moved from foster family to foster family. Foster children feel completely unable to control their lives.

Throughout all this, they blame themselves for the situation they're in. Many foster children long to return to their families, regardless of how dysfunctional the home life was.

What are the Mental Health Issues of Foster Children?
A foster child's emotional burden can show up as a variety of mental health issues.

Some mental health issues foster children may face are:

  • Learning disabilities.
  • Attachment disorders: Failure to bond with a foster family.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • Aggression and violent behavior: Sometimes due to exposure to violence as a child.
  • Impulsiveness: failure to control actions and behavior.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Problems dealing with peers: Lack of empathy and compassion for others.

What is Being Done to Address the Mental Health Issues of Foster Children?
Mental health experts recognize that the mental health issues of foster children are serious and require attention from social workers.

Although it's clear that a great deal of foster children require mental health care, studies show that only about one-third are receiving mental health counseling. This is primarily due to the lack of trained mental health counselors who are familiar with the particular issues foster children face. The mental health field can't keep up with the number of foster children requiring help.

Foster parents, child welfare agency workers and medical professionals need to work together to get mental health counseling to foster children, as needed.

Early evaluation and early intervention, which should happen before age three, are keys to helping foster children deal with the tremendous burden they have.

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