Academic journal article Mental Health Aspects of Developmental Disabilities

Foster Care: Are There Differences in the Cognitive and Psychiatric Characteristics of Young Children with Developmental Disabilities in Kinship vs. Non-Kinship Homes?

Academic journal article Mental Health Aspects of Developmental Disabilities

Foster Care: Are There Differences in the Cognitive and Psychiatric Characteristics of Young Children with Developmental Disabilities in Kinship vs. Non-Kinship Homes?

Article excerpt

This study compares developmental, psychiatric diagnosis and global assessment of functioning of 82 young foster children who present for evaluation of a developmental disability from kinship and non-kinship homes. The children in kinship homes (n=42) had been with their foster parents longer (3.2 yrs. vs. 1.2 yrs. p<0.001) before being referred for evaluation. There were no significant differences regarding types of developmental disabilities, psychiatric diagnosis or global assessment of functioning between the groups. There was a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders. Children with developmental disabilities in kinship homes may be as emotionally and developmentally involved as children in non-kinship homes.

Keywords: intellectual disability, foster care, children, psychiatric disorder, mental retardation

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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2001, more than 800,000 children spent some time in the out-of-home care, including family foster care, group homes, and institutions, with approximately 547,000 children in family foster care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003a). In 1980 the total number of children in foster care was 300,000, while in 2001 290,000 children entered de novo out of home care, (1,46) Children are placed into foster care at an average age of 5 years and are most often placed because of complications arising out of parental drug and/or alcohol abuse or serious mental illness of mothers. (1,8,19,24,30,34,36,43) Studies show that 23% (10) to 60% (39,42) of children in foster care have developmental problems such as speech/language delay, motor delay or an intellectual disability. They are 3 to 10 times more likely to receive a mental health diagnosis, have 6.5 times more mental health claims, are 7.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for a mental health condition, and have mental health expenditures 11.5 times greater than children in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. (23) With regard to specific mental health and educational issues, children in foster care are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and substance abuse than children in the general population. (11,16,21,22,23,29,31,35,37,39) In addition, nearly 60% (43) to 80% (22) of children in foster care have at least one chronic health condition and 25% have three or more chronic problems, three to seven times the rate found among other children living in poverty. (22)

The placement with kin (24) (any relative, by blood or marriage, or any person with close family ties) has been a historical reality in the informal placement of children. The percentage of children in the care of relatives (kinship foster care) increased from 18% in 1986 to 31% in 1990. (20) In New York City almost half of the approximately 50,000 foster children have been placed with relatives. (17,19)

But, while kinship care has increasingly become a preferred placement for children entering out-of-home care, with many public agencies giving priority to relatives when children must be formally placed in out-of-home care, the literature on kinship foster care is sparse, with most of the research limited to regional samples. The presumed advantages of kinship care include continuity of family identity, access to other relatives, an ongoing life within the ethnic, religious, and racial community of origin, being (40) less likely to experience multiple placements, and being more likely to be placed with siblings than children in non-kinship care. (8,15,40)

Few studies compared the emotional and developmental characteristics of children in kinship vs. non-kinship homes, (7) but of those, children placed with non-relatives seemed to have more developmental and behavioral (7) problems, (7,11,25,27,28,32,44) and were more likely to have repeated at least one grade or be enrolled in Special Education. …

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