The Stresses of Foster Care Take a Mental Toll on Children

For many foster children, the psychological toll of the foster care system creates issues that can last a lifetime.

Proven by multiple studies, kids who come into the system begin to deal with mental issues often caused by the stress of going into care or family situations that forced DHS to intervene. Because of these sudden interventions, children who have already undergone trauma are forced to experience more.

“It’s like you owe them an apology on behalf of life,” said Tammy Nelson, Health Services Manager at Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs.

According to the most recent statistics from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, neglect is most often the reason children go into care, with drugs often playing a role.

Source: Arkansas Department of Human Services Report

“Over 80 percent of our cases are drug related,” said Felecia Carter, county supervisor for Pulaski County South.

Left to their own devices, these children often don’t get the chance to develop properly because they have to focus on surviving. This issue becomes more of a problem as they age.

“They can’t develop an identity,” said Dr. Greg Smith, a faculty member of the UA Little Rock School of Social Work. Smith emphasized this is especially true for children who find themselves in multiple homes over a short period of time. “Every few months it changes what you are and how you identify.”

“It’s culture, it’s race, it’s everything,” said Gigi Peters, Executive Director of MidSOUTH.

These affects can compound when aging out of the system, as many of the children in the system haven’t learned life skills and feel as if there is no incentive to utilize DHS transitional programs.

“When they turn 18, they want out of the system,” said Peters. “And realistically the case managers are like ‘oh my God, I’m so glad you’re 18, can you please sign here and check yourself out.’”

When resources aren’t utilized by children leaving the system, it easy for them to re-enter the cycle that put them in care in the first place. “When they turn 18 they are going back to that environment because of little resources,” said Peters.

If they don’t end up back with relatives, many children end up without a place to live. According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Innovative, 1 in every 5 former foster children are homeless after they age out at 18.

In an attempt to lessen some of the effects of mental strain, the Department of Human Services offers therapy for children in foster homes, with children in other facilities receiving extra assistance.

“Often times it’s just [needing] someone to listen [to them] without judgment just for a little while,” said Smith. “To be heard.”

“We need all the systems in place [for the children] to succeed,” said Nelson, who stressed the need for personal relationships. “If you want to save someone from drowning you have to swim yourself.