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Mental health and substance use disorders among foster youth transitioning to adulthood: Past research and future directions


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  • Havlicek, Judy R.
  • Garcia, Antonio R.
  • Smith, Douglas C.
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    At a time when there is increasing attention being given to systematically integrating the well-being of children with the goals of safety and permanence in child welfare, little is known about the psychosocial functioning of foster youth transitioning to adulthood from substitute care. This article systematically reviews 16 peer-reviewed articles and/or research reports to identify lifetime and past year prevalence rates of mental health disorders and service utilization. At ages 17 or 18, foster youth are 2 to 4 times more likely to suffer from lifetime and/or past year mental health disorders compared to transition aged youth in the general population. Findings show that mental health service use declines at ages when the prevalence rate of mental health disorders is peaking. The findings of this review suggest the need to focus future efforts in three main areas: 1) setting a common research agenda for the study of mental health and service use; 2) routine screening and empirically supported treatments; and 3) integration and planning between child and adult mental health service systems.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Children and Youth Services Review.

    Volume (Year): 35 (2013)
    Issue (Month): 1 ()
    Pages: 194-203

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:cysrev:v:35:y:2013:i:1:p:194-203

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    Keywords: Aging out foster youth; Transition aged foster youth; Mental health disorders; Alcohol and substance use disorders; Prevalence rates of lifetime and past year psychiatric disorders; Mental health services;


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    1. Havlicek, Judy & McMillen, J. Curtis & Fedoravicius, Nicole & McNelly, David & Robinson, Debra, 2012. "Conceptualizing the step-down for foster youth approaching adulthood: Perceptions of service providers, caseworkers, and foster parents," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(12), pages 2327-2336.
    2. Hook, Jennifer L. & Courtney, Mark E., 2011. "Employment outcomes of former foster youth as young adults: The importance of human, personal, and social capital," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 33(10), pages 1855-1865, October.
    3. Montgomery, Paul & Donkoh, Charles & Underhill, Kristen, 2006. "Independent living programs for young people leaving the care system: The state of the evidence," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(12), pages 1435-1448, December.
    4. Keller, Thomas E. & Salazar, Amy M. & Courtney, Mark E., 2010. "Prevalence and timing of diagnosable mental health, alcohol, and substance use problems among older adolescents in the child welfare system," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 626-634, April.
    5. Narendorf, Sarah Carter & McMillen, J. Curtis, 2010. "Substance use and substance use disorders as foster youth transition to adulthood," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 113-119, January.
    6. Shin, Sunny Hyucksun, 2005. "Need for and actual use of mental health service by adolescents in the child welfare system," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(10), pages 1071-1083, October.
    7. Courtney, Mark E., 2000. "Research needed to improve the prospects for children in out-of-home placement," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(9-10), pages 743-761.
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    Cited by:
    1. Lawler, Michael J. & Sayfan, Liat & Goodman, Gail S. & Narr, Rachel & Cordon, Ingrid M., 2014. "Comprehensive residential education: A promising model for emerging adults in foster care," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 10-19.
    2. Garcia, Antonio R. & Palinkas, Lawrence A. & Snowden, Lonnie & Landsverk, John, 2013. "Looking beneath and in-between the hidden surfaces: a critical review of defining, measuring and contextualizing mental health service disparities in the child welfare system," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(10), pages 1727-1733.


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