Facts About Mental Health In Foster Care

Facts About Mental Health In Foster Care

Understanding Mental health in children in Foster Care is so important for their success.

Out of the 400,000 young people who have entered foster care in the United States, 80% have mental health issues. That's a striking percentage, especially when compared to the fact that only 20% of non-foster children have mental health issues within the general population. 

These childhood mental health challenges result from so many factors out of the young adult's control, from issues at home to constant change and stress and the level of child abuse or neglect they have suffered. And once children age out of the foster care system, many are unsure how to seek the help they need while also learning to live independently. The child welfare system has not set them up for success in transitioning into adulthood. 

From anxiety disorders to other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder to healthcare and behavioral health challenges, the rates of mental illness are a true challenge to all youth in foster care today.

What Contributes to Children's Mental Health?

Our experiences have impacted our minds' health, and that's especially true for young children and youth in foster care.

The goal of the foster care system is positive: to reunite children with their families (or find permanent placements for them when that isn't possible). But even with good intentions, it can be a challenging experience for children, youth, and families that support them. 

It's said that being separated from your family is more detrimental to your mental health than living in poverty. Having to leave your home and family members without knowing when you'll return is confusing and scary, and moving from place to place while in the system affects a child's mental, physical, and emotional health. 

Before a child goes into foster care, they've likely already experienced trauma. Most children are removed from their homes because of dangerous situations like neglect and abuse. 

All of these adverse childhood experiences affect a youth's mental well-being. They must get the mental health resources they need to work through their trauma to live healthy lives. 

Which Mental Health Disorders Often Affect Foster Youth?

Every child is different, and the effects of trauma show up in different ways. But several common mental health disorders affect foster youth the most. 

Anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often the result of a child's traumatic past or present (abuse or neglect in the household, moving from foster home to foster home, etc.). Sometimes youth experience eating disorders, social phobias, and attachment issues too. 

Symptoms you may observe in a child suffering from PTSD include?

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hyperventilation (Breathing quickly)
  • Feeling tense, nervous, or restlessness 
  • Higher heart rate than would be expected in a child
  • Unable to control worrying thoughts
  • Gastrointestinal Problems (stomach ache)
  • Avoidance of things that will trigger anxiety
  • Sweating / Trembling
  • Being restless or tense and of causes nervous

Several anxiety disorders do excite. Here is a list of a few:

  • Agoraphobia 
  • Anxiety disorder around medical conditions
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorders 
  • Specific phobias 
  • Social phobia
  • Selective mutism 
  • Here is a link to dive into more detail about these Anxiety disorders

Please seek help from your mental health professional if you believe that these conditions interfere with your life or if you have feelings of hurting yourself or others.

They will be able to help you find a solution to your challenges. 

How does Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affect a Foster child?

Many times issues might show up in a child's behavior: maybe they're more violent or defiant, with anger being normal during such a high-charged and confusing time. 

Symptoms you may observe in a child suffering from an Anxiety disorder include?

  • Depression
  • Hypervigilance
  • Anger towards self or others
  • Flashbacks
  • Challenges with the focus within the school
  • Physical illness is a manifestation of mental pain turning into physical ailments.
  • Isolation and challenges to connect with people

Here is a link to learn more about PTSD

Even though these behaviors and disorders are things foster youth often deal with, this doesn't mean these issues are their fault. To begin to heal, they need access to mental health services and a community of people to support them. 

How Is the Problem Being Tackled?

It's known that children in foster care have mental health issues that desperately need attention. Unfortunately, not enough is being done to fix the problem.

There are standards for the foster care system, and states are supposed to address the needs of foster care youth so they get the care they need. 

A portion of the states are doing this, but others are not. 91% of states are not meeting the needs of foster youth, with only a handful of U.S. states meeting the expectations.

Some states do screenings and assessments that help them figure out what foster care children need. However, they aren't following through and connecting the children with mental health help. 

This issue has been going on for a long time, and in many cases, the services that would help foster youth aren't available to them. With many foster youth showing signs of mental health problems very young in life, these issues worsen with time if they aren't addressed. 

Luckily, people are becoming more and more vocal about how important mental health is for foster youth. They're using their voice to make positive change happen before youth age out of Foster care, and healthcare access is diminished.

How Can You Help?

If you're wondering how to help foster youth, there are a couple of crucial ways to get involved. 

One of the best ways is to become a foster parent yourself. States across the country always need people to foster children so they have a safe place to stay while the details of their guardianship are sorted out. 

As a foster parent, you can help a child access the mental health services they might need, including counseling and therapy. Connecting them with someone who can share coping strategies will allow them to begin to deal with their trauma in a helpful and informed way. 

Plus, being there as a supportive listener for your foster child and ensuring their needs are met will help them. 

Another way to help America's foster youth is to become an advocate for them. Spread facts about mental health in foster youth to others to explain what's happening and encourage people to find ways to address the problem. 

Support the Mental Health of Foster Care Youth

Foster care affects children in different ways, and this effect is often positive. A safe and loving home environment does wonder for the mental health of foster care children, and by being a foster parent, you can help provide this. 

As a foster parent, you're given all of the training and support you need to help your foster child flourish.

Fostering is a meaningful and rewarding experience that opens so many hearts.

If you're interested in becoming a foster parent in Virginia or have questions you'd like answered, reach out to us today. Foster VA is here to support you through the entire fostering process. 

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