Children and adolescents enter foster care for diverse reasons. Some experience abandonment or the death or incarceration of a parent. Others have abusive and neglectful caregivers who become subject to investigation by child protective services.
Family separation is a traumatic and confusing event that often leads to intense feelings of fear, stress, anxiety, and sadness. If these reactions are left unaddressed, children who participate in the foster system can experience poor mental and physical health, poverty, homelessness, and problems related to substance use.
As shown in the graphic above, children involved in foster care also have higher rates of premature death than other children. Between 2003 and 2017, rates remained relatively similar among foster care children then gradually declined for other children living in the US.
The authors of these findings suspect that differences in rates of premature death might not necessarily be a result of foster care itself but represent the broader health and social challenges faced by these children who have faced adversity early in life. Attention to the special needs of foster children and recognition of their special risks will be necessary to prevent the trailing effects of trauma and premature death.
Databyte via Chaiyachati BH, Wood JN, Mitra N, Chaiyachati KH. All-Cause Mortality Among Children in the US Foster Care System, 2003-2016. JAMA Pediatrics. 20 April 2020.