Foster care, residential care and public care placement patterns are associated with adult life trajectories: population-based cohort study

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2012 Sep;47(9):1517-26. doi: 10.1007/s00127-011-0458-5. Epub 2011 Nov 30.


Objectives: Childhood experiences of public care may be associated with adult psychosocial outcomes. This study aimed to evaluate the associations of four public care exposures: type of placement, length of placement, age at admission to care and number of placements, as well as the reasons for admission to public care with emotional and behavioural traits at age 30 years.

Methods: Participants included 10,895 respondents at the age 30 survey of the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) who were not adopted and whose care history was known. Analyses were adjusted for individual, parental and family characteristics in childhood.

Results: Cohort members with a public care experience presented lower childhood family socio-economic status compared with those in the no public care group. After adjusting for confounding, exposure to both foster and residential care, longer placements and multiple placements were associated with more extensive adult emotional and behavioural difficulties. Specifically, residential care was associated with increased risk of adult criminal convictions (OR = 3.09, 95% CI: 2.10-4.55) and depression (1.81, 1.23-2.68). Multiple placements were associated with low self-efficacy in adulthood (OR = 3.57, 95% CI: 2.29, 5.56). Admission to care after the age of 10 was associated with increased adult criminal convictions (OR = 6.03, 95% CI: 3.34-10.90) and smoking (OR = 3.32, 95% CI: 1.97-5.58).

Conclusion: Adult outcomes of childhood public care reflect differences in children's experience of public care. Older age at admission, multiple care placements and residential care may be associated with worse outcomes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Behavior
  • Cohort Studies
  • Crime / psychology
  • Custodial Care / psychology*
  • Custodial Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Emotions
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care / psychology*
  • Foster Home Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • United Kingdom