Objectives: To describe health-related problems across placement types (unrelated foster, kin foster, in-home with birth parent); to examine the association of placement and demographic/child welfare variables (child gender, age, race/ethnicity; caregiver language; type of maltreatment, and length of time receiving services from child welfare) with health-related problems.
Methods: This study utilized a retrospective medical chart review of children less than 6 years old (n=449) seen at an outpatient child welfare pediatric clinic. Logistic regression modeling was used to estimate odds of having a weight, medical, or provisional developmental delay problem by placement and demographic/child welfare characteristics.
Results: Almost 13% of children in the sample were obese (≥95% age-gender specific percentile) and more than a quarter were overweight/obese (≥85%) while only 7% were underweight (≤5%). Most children (78%) had a physical health diagnosis and 25% were provisionally identified with a developmental delay. No differences between weight diagnoses, type of medical diagnoses, and provisional developmental delay by placement type were found, although children with 3 or more medical diagnoses were more likely to be with kin (p<.05). Children 2 years old or older were more likely to be overweight/obese than children under 2 years old (p<.05) and Hispanic children were more likely to be overweight/obese than non-Hispanic children (p<.01). Length of stay in child welfare was positively related with a medical diagnosis or provisional developmental delay (p<.01).
Conclusions: Results argue for careful assessment of weight, medical, and developmental problems in children active to child welfare, whether residing in their home of origin, with kin, or with unrelated foster parents. The increasing problem of obesity among young children in child welfare warrants further investigation and intervention.
Practice implications: The comprehensive health examination and enhanced health maintenance schedule for children in foster care should be extended to children who remain at home with child welfare services as child welfare involvement rather than placement is related to health-related problems.
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