"Better identifying and assisting children with, or at risk of developing such problems upon entry to foster care and throughout their out-of-home placement, may alleviate their needs and troubles and provide mechanisms for supporting them as they get older," Wendy Walsh, research associate at the Carsey Institute at the UNH and a colleague wrote in the report.
The authors looked at a nationally representative sample of children placed in out-of-home care between July 1998 and February 1999. After four years, 43 percent of the children were still in out-of-home care, including 22 percent in foster care, 13 percent who were living with other relatives, and 8 percent who were in a residential program, group home or other living arrangement.
About 27 percent of children aged 11 to 18 in out-of-home care had clinical levels of emotional problems and 41 percent had clinical levels of behavioral problems, the researchers found.
In the four-year follow-up, 32 percent of kids diagnosed with emotional problems and 35 percent of those diagnosed with behavioral problems were in foster care. Only 19 percent of children without these problems were still in foster care, according to a university news release.
The researchers also found that children with emotional and behavioral problems are less likely to rejoin their families. While 31 percent of children with no emotional problems rejoined their families, the figure was only 19 percent for those with emotional problems. One-third of children with no behavioral problems rejoined their families, compared with 18 percent of those with behavioral problems.
In addition, younger children (aged 3 to 5) were much more likely to be adopted than older children (aged 15 to 18). Only 5 percent of older teens are adopted, compared with 61 percent of the younger kids, the authors noted.
"In many states, foster care ceases at age 18, and the youth are on their own. Yet they are aging out of foster care at a time in life when many peers still require substantial guidance, structure, and support," the authors wrote.
They noted that "The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008," which encourages relative care, and allows states reimbursement for caring for eligible foster youth until age 21, may offer many benefits to vulnerable youth and society.
Research indicates that "the financial benefits of extending foster care -- both for individual youth and for society -- outweigh costs to government by a factor of approximately 2 to 1," the authors report. As of April 2011, the legislation has been adopted in 11 states.
"These findings suggest that it may be worthwhile for states to reconsider their policies for the sake of long-term success. This type of investment may be significantly less expensive than the costs of the increased burdens on the community in the form of lost potential and would be a positive investment in these young adults," the researchers concluded.
The data and conclusions of the research should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has more about foster care.
SOURCE: University of New Hampshire, news release, June 21, 2011