Many studies of foster children postulate that a majority has mental health difficulties. They have higher rates of depression, poorer social skills, lower adaptive functioning, and more externalizing behavioral problems, such as violence and impulsivity. Additionally, research has documented high levels of mental health service utilization among foster children due to both greater mental health needs and greater contact to services. Some scholars suggest that the poor mental health outcomes found in foster children are due to a range of factors beyond their foster care experiences. These children may be biologically predisposed to mental illness and may have experienced traumas that have to place them on a path of mental health difficulty.
Perhaps the most convincing argument for judges is the recent emerging research indicating that babies and toddlers in the child welfare system suffer enormous cognitive and developmental interruption when compared with the general population of children. While the data are limited, there is rising evidence that one-half of the children in foster care exhibit a developmental delay roughly four to five times the rate of developmental delay found in children in the general population (Dicker and Gordon, 2000).
The foster care population in the United States has augmented dramatically over the past two decades to more than 555,000 children, despite efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect, decrease the rate of out-of-home placement, and increase the number of adoptions from foster care (Adoption and Foster Care, 2001). Most children are positioned in foster care because of neglect, physical abuse, parental substance abuse, or abandonment (Klee, Kronstadt, & Zlotnick, 1997). Approximately 10% of children for whom abuse or neglect are authenticating placed in foster care, and a disproportionate number of these children come from backgrounds with the fewest social and financial resources (No Place to Call Home, 1989). Researchers have shown that children in foster care have a high prevalence of health, emotional, and developmental problems (Chernoff, Combs-Orme, Risley-Curtis, & Heisler, 1994; Dubowitz et al., 1992; Fanshel & Shinn, 1978; Frank, 1980; Halfon, Berkowitz, & Klee, 1992;).
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