Objective: To determine factors influencing outpatient mental health service use by children in foster care.
Method: Detailed survey and administrative data were collected on 480 children who entered long-term foster care in San Diego County from May 1990 through October 1991. These data were linked with claims data from Medicaid and San Diego County Mental Health Services information systems. A Poisson regression model was used to determine whether the following factors influenced outpatient mental health service use: age, race/ethnicity, gender, maltreatment history, placement pattern, and behavioral problems as measured by the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).
Results: Except for maltreatment history, all independent variables included in the multivariate regression model were statistically significant. The total number of outpatient mental health visits increased with age, male gender, and non-relative foster placements. Relative to Caucasians, visits were lower for Latinos, and Asian/Others, but comparable for African-Americans. Concerning maltreatment history, differences were only found in one category; children experiencing caretaker absence received fewer visits compared to children who did not experience caretaker absence. Children with CBCL Total Problem Scale T-scores of 60 or greater had significantly more visits than those with a score less than 60.
Conclusions: Both clinical and non-clinical factors influence outpatient mental health service use by foster children. Limitations imposed by gender, race/ethnicity, and placement setting need to be addressed by child welfare policies. These finding suggest that guidelines are needed to systematically link children in foster care with behavioral problems to appropriate services.