Negative Effects Of Foster Care On Emotional, Intellectual & Psychological Development

Negative Effects Of Foster Care On Emotional, Intellectual & Psychological Development
Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.
Brain Research Laboratory

Despite the protests of her father, and although there was no evidence of paternal or maternal abuse or neglect, Angela was placed among strangers, i.e. Foster Care, for a period of at least 7 months, during a critical stage of social and emotional development and neurological immaturity.

It is now well established that Foster Care can be profoundly injurious to a child's mental health (Harden, 2004; Pediatrics 2000), and that "children in foster care have more compromised developmental outcomes than children who do not experience placement in foster care (Harden, 2014).

In fact, children in foster care are more likely to develop behavioral, educational, and emotional problems than children who are raised by abusive and high-risk parents (Bass et al., 2004; Harden, 2004; Kortenkamp,& Ehrle, 2002; Lawrence et al. 2006 NSCAW 2014). In Angela's case, there was no evidence of abuse in the parental home.

Children in foster care are also more likely to suffer from health problems, even though, ostensibly they have better access to health care (Bass et al., 2004; Horowitz, 2000).

Children between the ages of 1 month to 3 years are particularly susceptible to emotional harm from foster care, as they are the most fragile (Bass et al., 2004; Perry, 2012).

Foster care can injure a child's emotional development and can lead to negative development outcomes due to inconsistent nurturing and maternal contact (Cassidy et al. 2006). When placed in Foster Care, and if maternal care or care provided by the primary caretaker is inconsistent or inadequate, such as in the case of Angela, children become more insecurely attached and develop abnormal attachments (Cassidy & Berlin 2015; Zeanah et al. 2011).

As detailed by Harden (2004) children placed in Foster Care and who received inconsistent nurturing care from the primary caretaker, and who "have disrupted attachments to their caregivers, display overly vigilant or overly compliant behaviors, show indiscriminate connection to every adult, or do not demonstrate attachment behaviors to any adult. Children with insecure, "disordered" or "disorganized" attachments may also have many other adverse outcomes that persist throughout childhood, such as poor peer relationships, behavioral problems, or other mental health difficulties." Similar findings have been presented by other scientists (Carlson 1998, Lyons-Ruth, 2006).

Children placed in Foster Homes also exhibit "elevated levels of cortisol compared to children reared by their biological parents" (Harden, 2004). Cortisol is secreted in response to stress, and cortisol not only effects the brain but can injure the immune system.

As detailed earlier in this report, children who are removed from their mothers also have a tendency to become ill, and even to die. Likewise, according to Harden (2004) "Many studies have pointed to the deleterious impact of foster care on children's physical health, cognitive and academic functioning, and social-emotional wellbeing. In the area of physical health, pediatric and public health scholars have documented that foster children have a higher level of morbidity throughout childhood than do children not involved in the foster care system."

Likewise, according to the NSCAW, a significant proportion of children placed in Foster Care, suffer from compromised cognitive, intellectual, and academic functioning (National survey of child and adolescent well-being NSCAW, 2011). Specifically, the NSCAW found that over 1/3 of infants and toddlers and 1/2 of pre-school age children scored in the delayed range of development. Similar findings have been presented by other scientists (Konekamp & Ehrle, 2002, Pears & Fisher, 2005; Swayer & Dubowitz, 2015).

Children placed in Foster Care have higher rates of depression, abnormal social skills, are more impulsive, become more aggressive, and are more insecurely attached and have insecure and disordered attachment behaviors (Clausen et al., 1998; Stein et al., 2006).

Children placed in Foster Care do more poorly than children who are left in high-risk homes where parents are neglectful or abusive (Lawrence et al. 2006) Likewise, behavior problems are worse as compared to those raised by maltreating care givers(Lawrence et al. 2006). Likewise, according to a NSCAW (2003) study, children placed in Foster Care show more compromised social-emotional functioning than children raised in a high risk environment. However, in this case, Angela was not being abused or neglected by her parents. In this regard, and given these findings and the research reviewed above it is thus clear that Angela developed these problems precisely because was placed in foster care.

In fact, in a study released on April 6, 2005, by the Casey Family Programs, Harvard Medical School, the State of Washington Office of Children;s Administration Research, and the State of Oregon Department of Human Services,it was reported that children raised in Foster Homes are highly likely to develop PTSD and that the rates of PTSD among adults who were formerly placed in foster care was twice as high as among U.S. war veterans.

As detailed in the Casey Family study, in addition to the PTSD, 54.4% of adults formerly in foster care were found to be suffering from depression, social phobia, panic syndrome, and anxiety. Moreover, it was found that 80% of adults who had been placed in Foster Care as children, were doing poorly, with a quarter to one third becoming homeless or living below the poverty level.


In states from California to New York, and in counties and cities from Santa Clara County and San Jose, to New York City and Maryland, it has been reported that over 20% of children placed in Foster Care are sexually and physically abused or suffer from profound neglect while in Foster Care (United States District Court, D. Maryland, L.J. By and Through Darr v. Massinga, decision, Civ. No. JH-84-4409, September 27, 1988. F.Supp. 508 (D.Md. 1988); Testimony of Stephen P. Berzon, Foster Care: Problems and Issues, hearing, Subcommittee on Select Education, Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, September 8, 1976; Casereading conducted by Theodore J. Stein in conjunction with Del A. v. Edwin Edwards, (1988); David Kaplovitz and Louis Genevie, Foster Children in Jackson County, Missouri: A Statistical Analysis of Files Maintained by the Division of Family Services, (1981); Testimony of Marcia Robinson Lowry, Foster Care, Child Welfare, and Adoption Reforms, Joint Hearings before the Subcommittee on Public Assistance and Unemployment Compensation of the Committee on Ways and Means and the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, U.S. House of Representatives, April 13 and 28, May 12, 1988; Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County, Bogutz v. Arizona, 2nd amended civil complaint, No. CV94-04159. July 2015.)

In a Maryland study, substantiated allegations of sexual abuse have been reported to be four times higher than found among the general population (Mary I. Benedict and Susan Zuravin, Factors Associated With Child Maltreatment By Family Foster Care Providers (Baltimore: John Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, 1992).

Likewise, in a study conducted by the National Foster Care Education Project (1986) and the American Civil Liberties Union's Children's Rights Project (2013) it was found that Foster Children are 10 times more likely to be abused than children from the general population (Farber, 2013; Maier, 2014).

Children placed in Foster Care in California are also typically "subjected to inadequate supervision, substandard conditions and inadequate health care and education" (Gunnison, 2006); a conclusion also reached by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury (2013) and by members of the 1998-1999, Santa Clara County Grand Jury.

As concluded by the California-based Little Hoover Commission (1992) regarding children placed in Foster Care: "children can come to harm--and even die--while supposedly under the protection of foster care."


Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.