Skip to main content

The relative contributions of risk experiences, protective factors, and foster parent expertise to the emotional functioning of children recently placed in the state's custody

14 December 2001


Children placed in foster care have extremely high rates of psychological disorder when compared to children in the general population. In making decisions regarding initial referral for mental health services, however, child welfare caseworkers have few resources for determining which of these high-risk children are actually in need of such services, of the characteristics that place them at relatively greater or less risk for psychological disorder. This study uses simultaneous linear regression methodology to examine associations between proposed influences on emotional adjustment (experienced risk factors, child-related strengths, and characteristics of foster care placements) and indicators of emotional functioning (Children's Global Assessment Scale (CGAS) ratings, presence or absence of DSM-IV disorder, and number of comorbid DSM-IV disorders) among 2306-13 year-olds within their first 3 months of placement in substitute care. Data was obtained through a community mental health program providing developmental and mental health assessments to children entering foster care and was archival and used anonymously. Overall, this group of children had high rates of risk experiences and DSM-IV disorders. Multiple placement changes and pre-placement experiences of combined abuse and neglect were significantly associated both with lower CGAS ratings and with higher rates of comorbid diagnoses. Reading achievement scores were associated with higher levels of functioning, as reflected in CGAS scores, but were not associated with rates of diagnosis or comorbidity of diagnoses. Foster parents' breadth of experience was also associated with higher rates of comorbid disorders, a finding opposite of that expected. Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) estimates were not significantly associated with any of the indicators of emotional functioning, also contrary to expectations. None of the variables were found to be significantly related to the presence versus absence of a DSM-IV diagnosis. Due to lack of a cross-validation sample, results must be treated with caution. The implications of the results for future research, clinical practice, child-welfare policy, and mental health assessment needs of foster children are discussed.


Files are restricted to Pacific University. Sign in to view.