Children with autism are more likely to end up in the foster care system. Long- and short-term outcomes for children in foster care are not good: Children who spend any amount of time in foster homes are less likely than their peers to graduate from high school and more likely to end up homeless, in the criminal justice system or in long-term residential care. Foster care may be an even less desirable place for children with autism, given their special needs. Although foster parents may receive some specialized training, it is generally not nearly enough to help them adequately care for these children.
7.3 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children with autism were in foster care in a 2008 study. This is well above twice the proportion of all Medicaid-enrolled children in foster care. The prevalence of children with autism in foster care started out at 7.5 percent in 2001. It climbed to 10.5 percent in 2005 and then declined to 9.1 percent in 2007. Children with autism were 2.4 times more likely to enter foster care than a typical child.
Raising a child with autism is stressful for families, as the condition is unusually difficult to manage effectively. Some parents may simply not have the skills and resources to do so. This may result in neglect or abuse — and placement in foster care. Alternatively, families may voluntarily place children with autism in foster care because they can’t handle the children’s behavioral problems. Third, parents may relinquish custody so that their children can obtain Medicaid-funded or residential care that they otherwise cannot afford.
I will always be for family preservation. To lower the chances that a child with autism will land in foster care, clinicians working with these families should talk openly about the stresses of raising a child on the spectrum. They should ask how that stress is manifesting in the family, and assist the family members in getting the support they need. All US states should offer home visits from professionals or short-term breaks for parents of children with autism. (Only a handful currently do.) Home visits and respite services have been shown to lower the chances of psychiatric hospitalization among children with autism, and also may reduce the risk of foster care placement.
Foster care arrangements can cost between $30,000 and $50,000 in taxpayer funds per child per year. That money could be more wisely spent supporting the needs of these families. Society has an ethical obligation to help families care for their children with autism. We can and must do better to help these most vulnerable children and their families.
Thanks to David Mandell and his essay in LINK> Spectrum News for today’s blog. I started with an interest in how neurodivergent issues relate to foster care and a google search ended up with that essay.