Foster Children with Disabilities

By Waldman, H. Barry; Perlman, Steven P. et al. | The Exceptional Parent, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Foster Children with Disabilities


Waldman, H. Barry, Perlman, Steven P., Lederman, Cindy S., The Exceptional Parent


"The very systems intended to protect children in crisis were simply not designed to identify, assess, and manage the physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities of children with special needs."

--Wyoming Institute for Disailities

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Children and youth in foster care are a vulnerable population. They are at risk for abuse, neglect, and permanent separation from birth parents and have a greater incidence of emotional and behavioral difficulties. This is not surprising because these children are abused, neglected, or abandoned by the very people who are supposed to love and care for them. They are removed from their homes and often placed with strangers in new settings. Most of the children wish to return home to their familiar surroundings despite the reasons for the removal. "Why can't I go home?" is the most common and painful question the juvenile dependency judge must answer day after day. The trauma of the abuse and removal compound the underlying mental and physical disabilities these children face. They enter the child welfare system and the juvenile court as a last resort--after everything and everyone has failed them.

At least one-third of the more than half million youngsters in foster care in the United States have disabilities, ranging from minor developmental delays to significant mental and physical disabilities. This population continues to increase, 1) as technological advances enable growing numbers of children to survive disabling medical conditions, and, 2) as children are being recognized and identified with disabilities. The United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) 2006 report, Forgotten Children, repeatedly emphasizes the reality that the special needs of this population are not being met, and these children experience worse outcomes than other children in the foster care system. In addition, there is a common belief that the reunification with parents often takes longer for children with disabilities.

A profile of children in foster care

Twenty percent of the children in foster care are infants under the age of one. Infants and toddlers in the child welfare system exhibit developmental delays four to five times the rate of delay found in the general population. One-half of the youngsters are 10 years old or younger. Almost one-half are placed with non-relative foster families, 25 percent live with relatives, and 20 percent are living in group homes or institutions. Approximately 40 percent of children in foster care are white, 35 percent are black, 17 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent are Native Americans, and 1 percent are Asian. Forty percent have been in care for more than two years. Slightly more than half of the children are boys.

There are 119,000 youngsters in foster care who are waiting to be adopted. Their average age is eight; more than one third are under the age of five. They have been in foster care an average of almost four years.

T.L. Jackson and E. Miller commented, "A growing body of research has revealed that increasingly, children and youth in foster care have physical, mental health, or developmental problems."

Most of the children who enter foster care have been exposed to conditions that undermine their chances for healthy development, including an extended series of environmental, social, biological, and psychological risk factors. Reports indicate that children in foster care are in worse health than those who are homeless or those who are living in the poorest sections of our inner cities. They have a higher likelihood of chronic medical problems, lifelong psychiatric and behavioral issues, as well as permanent physical, cognitive, and developmental disabilities than children do in the general population. Educationally, foster children have a higher rate of absenteeism and lateness and are more likely to repeat a grade and to be in special education classes.

Children with disabilities

There are no national studies of the prevalence of disabilities among children in foster care. …

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