I Was in Foster Care: Could That Contribute to My Mental Health?

Every person is exposed to unique risk factors that influence their vulnerability to developing substance use disorder (SUD) and other mental health disorders. Experiences of trauma can increase one’s risk of these health complications, even if these memories are repressed. Individuals who grew up in the foster care system likely have a traumatic past that continues to affect their mental health in daily life. Recognizing the impact of foster care on mental health is necessary for achieving lasting wellness. 

No matter what an individual is going through, Alter Behavioral Health is here to provide support and guidance in healing from mental health issues. We understand the lasting impact of trauma on health and healing. Further, we can help people understand how their experiences in foster care have influenced their mental health in their daily life. 

Understanding Foster Care

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, foster care is “a temporary service provided by States for children who cannot live with their families.” A child is placed into foster care because birth parents are unable to provide adequate care for their child, or the home presents prevalent safety concerns. Foster care may be utilized temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity of problems experienced by a family as well as the age of the minor being placed into foster care. 

Many circumstances may cause a child to be placed into foster care. The following are a few examples:

  • Child neglect: The failure to meet a child’s basic needs. Examples of child neglect include being left alone for long periods of time, having inadequate nutrition, experiencing unsafe living environments, etc. 
  • Child abuse: Involves any situations of maltreatment perpetrated by an adult that is witnessed or experienced by a child. Examples of child abuse circumstances include physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse. 
  • Drug addiction: Living with a parent with SUD can lead to catastrophic effects experienced by the entire family. 
  • Incarceration: If a parent is incarcerated, the child must be placed in an alternative living situation. 
  • Major illness or death: A parent may become physically ill, interfering with their ability to care for their child. Additionally, if a parent passes away, their child may experience a foster care placement. 

In many of these cases, a relative or other family member may step in to care for the child in question. Therefore, any adult that steps in to raise a child can be recognized as a foster parent.

The Effects of Foster Care on Mental Health

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, “There are over 391,000 children and youth in foster care. Mental and behavioral health is the largest unmet health need for these children and teens.” Further, “Up to 80 percent of children in foster care have significant mental health issues, compared with approximately 18 to 22 percent of the general population.” Thus, there is an evident impact of foster care on mental health. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some of the complex challenges experienced by individuals in foster care include the following.

Histories of Trauma

Traumatic experiences are what ultimately drive foster placements. Therefore, children may be exposed to traumatic situations long before they are placed into foster care. It is necessary to understand that childhood trauma of any kind interferes with proper development. As a result, foster care can inform long-lasting mental health concerns that stretch through adulthood. 

Difficult Transitions

Children in foster care may endure multiple losses and transitions. This can inevitably affect their sense of self and overall well-being. They may experience traumatic separations from their parents and siblings or temporary placements. Further, it can be overwhelming to make effective adjustments when living with a new family. This lack of grounding can lead to significant strain and stress on children. As a result, these experiences can inform the development of mental health problems and disorders later in life. 

Relational Issues

A child’s sense of security, safety, and development is rooted in their caregivers. However, due to significant family disruptions, children in foster care lack the knowledge of healthy relational models needed to thrive in relationships throughout their lives. These relational issues can contribute to low self-worth, lack of social support, isolation, and more. Such issues can persist long through adulthood.

Treating Foster Care Trauma

The aforementioned challenges only scratch the surface of unique foster care experiences that influence a person’s mental health throughout their lifetime. It is not uncommon for adults to disregard their past foster care experiences when seeking healing from mental health, assuming that there is no connection between the two. However, these experiences take place in the most crucial developmental stages of an individual’s life. Therefore, they must be addressed and processed when healing from mental health problems. 

At Alter Behavioral Health, we offer treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We are passionate about helping individuals heal from the root causes of their mental health concerns. Using a wide range of evidence-based and holistic modalities, our therapists can help individuals recover from the complex influences of foster care as they heal from their mental health distress. 

Although foster care can provide incredible developmental opportunities for a child, the utilization of foster care means that a child has endured a traumatic past. Further, the transitions and relational circumstances in foster care can complicate a child’s mental health throughout their life. If you’re wondering if your mental health has been affected by your experiences in foster care, they likely have. At Alter Behavioral Health, we recognize how foster care can have long-lasting impacts on your mental health. We provide customizable treatment plans that prioritize whole-person healing, allowing you to process and overcome your past experiences of trauma as you heal from mental health distress. To learn more, call (866) 691-4386 today.