Relationship between reason for placement and medical findings among children in foster care

John I. Takayama, Ellen Wolfe, Kevin Coulter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Scopus citations


Objective. To determine the reasons for placement of children in foster care, the prevalence of medical findings during initial placement, and the relationship between reason for placement and medical findings. The association between placement reasons and parental substance abuse also was explored. Methods. Population-based analysis of medical records of 749 children examined at the Child Protection Center in San Francisco from October 1, 1991, to December 31, 1992. Health evaluations consisted of a clearance examination of children during entry into foster care and a comprehensive examination 3 weeks later. Reasons for foster placement included abandonment, neglect, no available caretaker, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and failed placement. Results. Nearly 50% of children in our study were <6 years of age. Neglect (30%), physical abuse (25%), and no available caretaker (24%) were the most frequent placement reasons, followed by abandonment (9%), failed placement (7%), and sexual abuse (5%). Substance abuse was documented in 30% of parents, 51% when the placement reason was neglect. Medical findings were identified in 60% of children. Among 0 to 6- year-olds, 27% had upper respiratory illnesses, 23% had developmental delay, and 21% had skin conditions; for children 7 to 12 years of age, 32% failed vision screening, 12% had dental caries, and 11% had upper respiratory illnesses; and among 13- to 18-year-olds, 31% failed vision screening and 12% had positive tuberculin skin tests. For younger children, skin conditions were associated with neglect, no available care taker, and failed placement, and developmental delay with neglect and abandonment. For adolescents, history of psychiatric illness was associated with neglect and failed placement. Marks of abuse for all age groups were limited to children who had been physically abused. Three or more diagnoses were identified for ~20% of children who had been neglected or abandoned or had failed placement, compared with 10% of children who had been either physically or sexually abused. Conclusions. Specific medical findings associated with reasons for placement provide health professionals with additional information to assess more accurately the health care needs of children entering foster care. As important, screening tests revealed high rates of vision problems and exposures to tuberculosis, warranting earlier and more comprehensive screening. Finally, children who have endured variations of neglect or failed placement may have more health problems than anticipated previously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-207
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1998


  • Child abuse
  • Child welfare
  • Foster home care
  • Health status
  • Tuberculin test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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