The physical, developmental, and mental health needs of young children in child welfare by initial placement type

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2005 Jun;26(3):177-85. doi: 10.1097/00004703-200506000-00003.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends comprehensive assessments for children entering foster care. These children may be placed with biological parents, kin, or in nonrelative foster care. It is not known whether health-related needs differ by placement. Chart abstractions were conducted of child welfare and medical records of 1542 children, ages 3 months to 5 years 11 months, admitted to San Diego's sole emergency shelter/receiving facility from April 1, 1998, through June 30, 1999, for investigation of alleged maltreatment. Children were discharged to three placement types: biological parents (28.5%), kinship caregivers (28.4%), or nonrelative foster parents (43.1%). Overall, 86.7% of children studied demonstrated physical, developmental, or mental health needs, with more than half displaying two or more problems. More than half of the children had a "Suspect" score on the Denver-II; 70.3% of children with "Suspect" scores were found to have delay on a developmental evaluation. Almost one tenth of the sample were diagnosed with one or more mental health conditions. Few differences were found for physical, developmental, or mental health concerns by placement. Results suggest that young children placed with biological parents or in kinship care have similar needs to those of children placed with foster parents. This study confirms the importance of comprehensive assessments for young children removed from their homes, regardless of placement. It also illustrates a need for standardized assessment criteria, particularly for developmental and mental health status, and for collaborative care models for all young children entering the child welfare system, regardless of their placement following investigation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Custody*
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / diagnosis
  • Developmental Disabilities / epidemiology*
  • Developmental Disabilities / therapy
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Needs Assessment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical Examination
  • Risk Factors