Foster care and mental health. Foster care placement has implications for healthy emotional development.

Young children are more likely than older children to be placed in foster care and they spend a larger proportion of their life in the foster care system. As a matter of fact, young children are in foster care longer than older children and infants are in foster care significantly longer than other age groups. In a recent study of five states, the median length of time infants spent in foster care ranged from 11 to 42 months.

Because young children spend a lot of time in the system, foster care placement has implications for their healthy emotional development. Different primary caregivers in a short amount of time leads to emotional problems. Likewise, someone who is fostering a young child may offer basic physical safety not provide necessary comfort levels for proper emotional development.

  • Attachment disruptions among young children in foster care
    • Out-of-home placement is typically associated with a lot of disruptions in attachment relationships. These losses and lack of permanence undermine a
      child’s attempt to form a secure attachment with a primary caregiver. The more changes in caregivers young children in foster care experience the more likely they are to exhibit oppositional behavior, crying, and clinging. In order to reduce attachment disruptions for infants, there has been an increasing emphasis on allowing infants to stay with their mothers despite the mother’s difficulties. For example, allowing babies to stay with incarcerated mothers or mothers in residential treatment for substance abuse

  • Risk of Unresponsive Care in Foster Care
    • Care that provides for the infant’s basic physical needs but is relatively insensitive or unresponsive to the infant’s attachment signals and emotional needs can lead to an insecure infant-caregiver attachment. This places children at risk for subsequent emotional and interpersonal difficulties. Foster parents may need guidance in how to effectively respond to the special attachment needs of infants and toddlers in their care.

    Both the child’s need for continuity of relationships and her need for sensitive, responsive care should be considered in foster care placement decisions. When it is necessary for a child to experience an attachment disruption, she should be offered sensitive, responsive care with the alternative caregiver.

    Source: University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

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