New Data: Prevalence of Mental Health Diagnoses, Prescriptions Among Foster Care Youth

The 2013 report Diagnosis and Health Care Utilization of Children who are in Foster Care and Covered by Medicaid, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) is loaded with useful data, including those showing a stark contrast in the prevalence of mental health diagnoses between Medicaid-covered youth in foster care and their peers outside the child welfare system.  While recent research indicates that the increase in psychiatric diagnoses and office visit rates for U.S. youth outpace those of adults (based on comparison of data from the latter half of the 1990s and 2007-2010),  mental illness and psychiatric disabilities appear to be more prevalent among children in foster care than in the general population (a trend also found in countries outside of the United States).

The SAMHSA report divides findings into age groups (and is available at their website in PDF form), but some of the overall trends include:

  • Mental health diagnoses (49 percent) rates among foster care youth covered by Medicaid was higher in 2010 than their counterparts not in foster care (11 percent)
  • Children in foster care had more outpatient visits and longer lengths of an average inpatient stay than those not in foster care

Among adolescents (ages 12-17):

  • Attention-deficient, conduct and disruptive disorder were the most common diagnoses in 2010, occurring in 38 percent of foster care youth compared to 11 percent of their peers outside of foster care
  • 40 percent of 12-17 years olds in foster care used prescription medication related to a mental health diagnosis

In light of these trends, it might be worth noting that a December 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office raised concerns to the Department of Health and Human Services’ over appropriate treatment of mental illness and use of prescribed psychiatric medication for children in Medicaid or in the foster care system (the majority also covered by Medicaid). Their report found that youth covered by Medicaid were twice as likely to take anti-psychotic medications than privately insured youth, but may not have received counseling or additional mental health treatment other than the medication.

 

 

Report Citation: Center for Mental Health Services and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Diagnoses and Health Care Utilization of Children Who Are in Foster Care and Covered by Medicaid. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4804. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

 

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