Mental Health Awareness in Foster Care Youth
Mental and behavioral health is the largest unmet need for children and teens in foster care. Youth in foster care are more likely to develop and struggle with their mental health than the general population. Up to 80% of children in foster care have significant mental health issues, compared to approximately 18 to 22% of the general youth population. This includes depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, burnout, compassion fatigue, and more. Additionally, because of the complex traumas faced by children and youth in foster care, foster care alumni experience post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate nearly five times higher than the general adult population.
To appropriately and proactively assist with mental health needs, we must focus prosperity in all aspects of children's and youth’s lives– including home life, school and/or work, and community. To support their needs, it is important to encourage structure, boundaries, consistency, and affection. Investing in culturally appropriate mental health supports that recognize an individual’s identity, culture, and lived experience may improve the effectiveness of services and supports while improving long-term effects for children and youth.
Relational permanency, the ability to preserve and maintain important long-term relationships, is fundamental to the well-being of children and youth in foster care. Maintaining relationships with relatives and kin can increase stability, reduce trauma, and help children maintain a sense of family, belonging, and identity. Additionally, positive mental and behavioral health for children and youth requires at least one nurturing, responsive caregiver who is stable in the child or youth’s life over time.
Overall, it is essential to realize that youth in foster care are the experts in their own lives. Empowering them to make informed decisions about their own lives and mental health needs is fundamental. Mental health support looks different for everyone, but it is an essential component of overall health and well-being. Learning how to incorporate mental health topics into everyday conversations and understanding how to holistically address concerns support permanency and help children leave care with strengthened minds, empowered hearts, and stable families.