Children in the foster care system are at risk for a number of both short- and long-term mental health issues. This is even more the case for kids who were maltreated before entering foster care. Among these kids, depression is particularly prominent, and untreated through therapy and other intervention, it can lead to a risk of suicidal behavior. Post traumatic stress disorder is also quite common. Other mental health risks for children in foster care include dissociation, ADHD, conduct disorders, and social problems. Medicaid claims indicate that up to 57 percent of children in the foster care system exhibit signs of the mental health needs mentioned here, but the majority of these children do not have access to, or do not receive, the therapy and treatment they need.
A new study, funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health and administered by the University of Colorado, aims to address these mental health needs. A preventive intervention program, called Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF), was developed to provide both group skills training and one-on-one mentoring to a group of almost 80 children in Denver area foster care who had been previously maltreated. The skills training used group activities to address problem solving, anger management, emotion recognition, peer pressure, healthy relationships, and abuse prevention. In the one-on-one mentoring sessions, kids had a chance to practice their skills with their mentors, who were social work graduate students.
The results are promising. The seven-year study assessed kids’ mental health states before, immediately after, and six months after completing the intervention program. In the majority of cases, children who had participated had significantly lower rate of mental health problems, especially dissociation and post traumatic stress disorder, than those who did not participate. These kids also reported feeling a higher quality of life immediately following the intervention. Mental health needs unaddressed by therapy or intervention in youth can translate to both mental and physical health burdens in adulthood. Additional programs and funding such as this may have promise for the overall well being of children who have been maltreated and are adjusting to foster care.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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