Children in foster care at higher risk of death

Last Updated: 2001-07-27 9:13:34 EDT (Reuters Health)
המידע באדיבות מדיקונטקסט
By Shaun Griffin, PhD

LONDON (Reuters Health) – Children in foster care are more likely to die from causes such as suicide or substance abuse than other children are, Finnish researchers said Friday.

The investigators conclude that foster care systems fail to protect adolescents from harming themselves while they are in care and during the crucial period when they are learning to live independently.

"Our studies suggest that society does the right things but does them too late," researcher Dr. Mirjam Kalland from Save the Children in Helsinki told Reuters Health. "A delay in placing these children in care may in some cases have been responsible for premature deaths. Their movement from parents to foster carers and back to parents, and the consequent lack of stability, could also have a significant impact on death rates."

"Most of the problems occur during and after teenage years, when children are starting to become independent, but they need something to be independent from," she added.

Dr. Kalland and colleagues studied deaths among 13,371 children, ages 1 and older, who were taken into care in Finland between 1991 and 1997. During the study period 32 girls and 74 boys died, according to the team's report in the 28th July issue of the British Medical Journal.

The deaths resulted from suicide, substance misuse or accidents. None of the children died as a result of abuse of violence at the hands of parents or foster carers, the research team says.

For both sexes, the risk of dying at a particular age was higher than that in the general population. Even compared with a socially disadvantaged group (children of manual laborers), the foster children were more than twice as likely to die.

Dr. Kalland said the findings of the study are likely to apply internationally, even though foster care systems vary from country to country.

BMJ 2001:323;207-208.

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