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Published in international Child abuseResearchers at the University of Minnesota found that parental incarceration and foster care were separately associated with mental health problems. However, young people who experienced both had the highest odds of anxiety, depression, self-injury, suicidal thoughts, and mental health diagnoses and treatment. Those who had recently been in foster care and had a parent currently incarcerated reported the most adverse mental health symptoms.

While the trends have consistently shown this youth navigation of both systems fared worst, it also appears that those most closely and simultaneously exposed to parental incarceration and foster care are most likely to have poor outcomes. Of note, those with a past experience of parental incarceration and/or foster care performed worse compared to adolescents not exposed to the system and likely warrant consideration of intervention services. Therefore, continued access to support and mental health services may be warranted.

“This study adds to what we know about youth in foster care and children with incarcerated parents, detailing troubling adolescent health outcomes for those navigating both systems,” said Luke Muntner, Ph.D. MSW, Doctoral Research Associate University of Minnesota Medical School. “These results point to an urgent need to expand access to mental health services for youth in families with systemic impacts while advocating for policy changes it reduces the number of children who become systematically vulnerable to these effects.”

The research used data from 2019 Minnesota Student Survey more than 110,000 students in grades 8, 9, and 11. Almost 2% of students surveyed experienced both parental incarceration and foster care. A disproportionate number of young people of color, those who live in poverty or live in rural community.

After analyzing these findings, the research team made the following recommendations:

  • Strengthening screening and treatment for symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Increased access to culturally relevant, evidence-based therapeutic programs that reduce the risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior.
  • A coordinated, seamless continuum of care as children navigate their way through different systems.
  • Reduced dependency on family care and separation. Instead, use alternative strategies that offer choice, autonomy, and empowerment to parents and families while promoting child safety and family well-being.

The researchers suggest further work to examine the health outcomes of youth affected by both parental incarceration and foster family, including externalizing behaviors, substance use, and physical health. The research team also plans to examine the ways in which various protective factors such as family, school or community supportcan help reduce the risk of the baby becoming ill.

The risk of homelessness or incarceration among foster youth varies by type of disability

Additional information:
Luke Muntner et al., Youth at the Intersection of Parental Incarceration and Foster Care: Examining Prevalence, Disparities, and Mental Health, Child abuse (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2022.105910

Citation: Foster care, parental incarceration linked to youth mental health issues (2022, October 13) Retrieved October 13, 2022, from .html

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