Life course outcomes on mental and physical health: the impact of foster care on adulthood

Am J Public Health. 2012 Mar;102(3):534-40. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300285. Epub 2012 Jan 19.


Objective: We compared the prevalence rates of mental health and physical health problems between adults with histories of childhood foster care and those without.

Methods: We used 2003-2005 California Health Interview Survey data (n = 70,456) to test our hypothesis that adults with childhood histories of foster care will report higher rates of mental and physical health concerns, including those that affect the ability to work, than will those without.

Results: Adults with a history of childhood foster care had more than twice the odds of receiving Social Security Disability Insurance because they were unable to work owing to mental or physical health problems for the past year, even after stratifying by age and adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.

Conclusions: Childhood foster care may be a sentinel event, signaling the increased risk of adulthood mental and physical health problems. A mental and physical health care delivery program that includes screening and treatment and ensures follow-up for children and youths who have had contact with the foster care system may decrease these individuals' disproportionately high prevalence of poor outcomes throughout their adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • California / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care*
  • Health Status*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult