DC – Newspaper articles, TV shows and books are filled with horror stories of
children placed in foster care. A new study bucks that trend by showing
out-of-home placements can improve the emotional health of some youths who have
been maltreated by a parent.
study, led by Ann-Marie Conn, PhD, general pediatric
academic fellow at University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, will be
presented Monday, May 6, at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual
meeting in Washington, DC.
Conn and her colleagues compared mental health problems in 281 children ages
3-18 years who remained at home after being maltreated, with 482 children who were placed out of their
homes (e.g., in foster care). These children were from a nationally
representative sample of children referred to child welfare.
The Child Behavior Checklist was
administered to the children three to six months after a placement decision was
made (baseline) and 18 months later. The results were compared between the
groups. In addition, investigators compared mental health problems among
children in each group who had similar prior adverse experiences, which were
defined as physical, emotional or sexual abuse; neglect; having a caregiver with
mental health or substance abuse problems; having a caregiver who was abused; and
the presence of criminal behavior in the home.
Results showed that 26 percent of
children in both groups had mental health problems at baseline.
Eighteen months after placement, the
percentage of 6- to 10-year-olds with mental health problems decreased
significantly from 34 percent to 17 percent among those who were moved to
alternative placements. Mental health problems remained stable among youths
ages 11-18 years and increased from 10 percent to 18 percent of 3- to
Among children who remained at home,
the percentage of 6- to 10-year-olds with mental health problems increased from
21 percent to 35 percent after 18 months, remained stable among youths ages
11-18 years, and decreased from 18
percent to 13 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds. These differences were not
When children were matched according
to demographics, adverse experiences and mental health treatment use, there
were no differences in mental health at 18 months between the two placement
Conn noted that mental health problems improved among school-age children
placed in out-of-home settings, such as foster care, even though children who
remained at home received more mental health services and their parents
participated in specialized training.
The findings support the therapeutic
nature of out-of-home interventions and highlight the importance of considering
factors, such as a child’s age, in placement decisions, she said.
“After maltreatment has occurred, temporary
removal from a stressful home environment may foster a sense of safety and
security,” Dr. Conn concluded. “Placement alternatives, including foster care,
can have emotional health benefits for some maltreated children.”
schedule an interview with Dr. Conn before
the PAS meeting, call 585-273-2027 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To schedule an interview during the meeting, call 585/415-2866.
view the abstract, “Mental Health Outcomes Among Child
Welfare Investigated Children: In-Home Versus Out-of-Home Care,” go to http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/view.php?nu=PAS13L1_3550.2.
Research was funded by the National
Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS)
are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual
Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research,
the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care
providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The
four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric
research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission
of fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information, visit www.pas-meeting.org. Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PedAcadSoc.