Children are removed from their homes and placed into foster care when their home environments are physically or emotionally unsafe. Children who are neglected, victims of sexual or physical abuse, or mistreated in other ways often spend time being cared for by a foster family. In Manitoba, Canada, more than 7,000 children received these services in 2008. The majority of these children have deep psychological scars that they struggle with, and many experts worry that the Canadian child welfare program does not have the resources to address these problems. Previous studies in Sweden have shown that foster children are more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals, attempt suicide, or complete a suicide attempt than Swedish children not receiving services. In order to determine if suicide rates decrease or increase after entrance into Canadian foster care, Laurence Y. Katz, of the Department of Psychiatry and the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy led a study comparing suicide rates of children who received care between 1997 and 2006 to those of children who were not in foster care.
Using data from more than 8,000 children ranging in age from 5 to 17, Katz found that 2 years prior to being placed in care, future foster children were more likely to commit suicide, attempt suicide, or be hospitalized than the general population. However, the results showed that these rates decreased after the children had been placed into care. The most significant decreases in these rates were found in the children with diagnosed psychiatric problems. Katz believes this could be that the children with psychiatric issues were exposed to elevated stress levels in their homes of origin, resulting from their parents’ incapacity to emotionally or physically manage the existing psychiatric problem. Overall, foster care, which is often maligned for underserving youth, appears to be beneficial to this at-risk segment of the population. Katz added, “These findings indicate the need for further research in this area, the results of which have important policy implications for governments and agencies with the responsibility to optimize services for this vulnerable population.”
Katz, L. Y., Au, W., Singal, D., Brownell, M., Roos, N., Martens, P. J., Chateau, D., Enns, M. W., Kozyrskyj, A. L., Sareen, J. Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Children and Adolescents in the Child Welfare System. Canadian Medical Association Journal 183.17 (2011): 1977-981. Print.
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