Skip to main content Accessibility help

The impact of foster care on development


Foster care is a protective intervention designed to provide out of home placement to children living in at-risk home environments. This study employs prospective longitudinal data (N = 189) to investigate the effects of foster care on the development of child behavior and psychological functioning taking into account baseline adaptation prior to placement and socioeconomic status at the time of placement. Comparisons were made among three groups: children who experienced foster care, those who were maltreated but remained in the home, and children who had not experienced foster care or maltreatment despite their similarly at-risk demographic characteristics. In the current sample, children placed in out of home care exhibited significant behavior problems in comparison to children who received adequate care, and using the same pre- and postplacement measure of adaptation, foster care children showed elevated levels of behavior problems following release from care. Similarly, children placed into unfamiliar foster care showed higher levels of internalizing problems compared with children reared by maltreating caregivers, children in familiar care, and children who received adequate caregiving. Findings suggest that outcomes related to foster care may vary with type of care and beyond the effects associated with maltreatment history, baseline adaptation, and socioeconomic status.Preparation of the work and the research described herein were supported by a National Institute of Mental Health grant (MN 40864) to Byron Egeland.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Byron Egeland, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455; E-mail:
Hide All


Achenbach, T., & Edelbrock, C. (1986). The Child Behavior Checklist–Teacher's Report Form. Burlington, VT: Department of Psychiatry, University of Vermont.
Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ambrosini, P. J., Metz, C., Prabucki, K., & Lee, J. (1989). Videotape reliability of the third revised edition of the K-SADS. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 723728.
Arad, B. D. (2001). Prenatal features and quality of life in the decision to remove children at risk from home. Child Abuse and Neglect, 25, 4764.
Armsden, G., Pecora, P. J., Payne, V. H., & Szatkiewicz, J. P. (2000). Children placed in long-term foster care: An intake profile using the Child Behavior Checklist 4–18. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 8, 4964.
Bowlby, J. (1960). Grief and mourning in infancy and early childhood. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 15, 952.
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Carlson, E. A. (1998). A prospective longitudinal study of attachment dissorganization/disorientation. Child Development, 69, 11071128.
Carlson, V., Cicchetti, D., Barnett, D., & Braunwald, K. (1989). Disorganized/disoriented attachment relationships in maltreated infants. Developmental Psychology, 25, 525531.
Chambers, W., Puig-Antich, J., Hirsch, M., Paez, P., Ambrosini, P., Tabrizi, M. A., et al. (1985). The assessment of prepubertal major depression with the Kiddie-SADS-E. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 21, 695707.
Cicchetti, D., & Toth, S. (2000). Developmental processes in maltreated children. In D. J. Hansen (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 46. Motivation and child maltreatment (pp. 85160). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Clausen, J. M., Landsverk, J., Ganger, W., Chadwick, D., & Litrownik, A. (1998). Mental health problems of children in foster care. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 7, 283296.
Connolly, J., & Doyle, A. (1981). Assessment of social competence in preschoolers: Teachers versus peers. Developmental Psychology, 17, 454462.
Costello, A. (1991). Structured interviewing. In M. Lewis (Ed.), Child and adolescent psychiatry: A comprehensive textbook (pp. 463472). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.
Cummings, E. M., & Cicchetti, D. (1990). Toward a transactional model of relations between attachment and depression. In M. T. Greenberg, D. Cicchetti, & E. M. Cummings (Eds.), Attachment in the preschool years (pp. 339374). Chicago: University of Chicago.
Curtis, P. A. (1999). In P. A. Curtis, G. Dale, Jr., J. C. Kendall, & J. D. Rockefeller, IV (Eds.), The foster care crisis: Translating research into policy and practice (pp. 117). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Curtis, P. A., Dale, G., Jr., Kendall, J. C., & Rockefeller, J. D., IV. (1999). The foster care crisis: Translating research into policy and practice. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Dozier, M. (2002, May). Intervening with young children: Targeting three critical needs. Paper presented at the Irving B. Harris Training Center Forum, St. Paul, MN.
Dozier, M., Stovall, K. C., & Albus, K. E. (1998). A transactional intervention for foster infants' caregivers. In D. Cicchetti & S. L. Toth (Eds.), Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology: Vol. 9. Developmental approaches to prevention and intervention (pp. 195219). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Dozier, M., Stovall, K. C., Albus, K. E., & Bates, B. (2001). Attachment for infants in foster care: The role of caregiver state of mind. Child Development, 72, 14671477.
Egeland, B. (1991a). A longitudinal study of high risk families: Issues and findings. In R. Starr & D. Wolfe (Eds.), The effects of child abuse and neglect: Issues and research (pp. 3356). New York: Guilford Press.
Egeland, B. (1991b). From data to definition. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 3743.
Egeland, B. (1997). Mediators of the effects of child maltreatment on developmental adaptation in adolescence. In D. Cicchetti & S. L. Toth (Eds.), Rochester Symposium on Developmental Psychopathology: Vol. 8. The effects of trauma on the developmental process (pp. 403434). Rochester, NY: University Press of Rochester.
Egeland, B., & Brunquell, D. (1979). An at-risk approach to the study of child abuse: Some preliminary findings. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 8, 219235.
Egeland, B., Carlson, E., & Sroufe, L. A. (1993). Resilience as process. Development and Psychopathology, 5, 517528.
Egeland, B., & Carlson, E. A. (2004). Attachment and psychopathology. In L. Atkinson & S. Goldberg (Eds.), Clinical Implications of Attachment (pp. 2748). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Egeland, B., & Deinard, A. (1975). The Child Care Rating Scale. Unpublished manuscript, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Egeland, B., & Sroufe, L. A. (1981). Attachment and early maltreatment. Child Development, 52, 4452.
Egeland, B., Sroufe, L. A., & Erickson, M. F. (1983). Developmental consequence of different patterns of maltreatment. Child Abuse and Neglect, 7, 459469.
Erickson, M., Sroufe, L. A., & Egeland, B. (1985). The relationship between quality of attachment and behavior problems in preschool in a high risk sample. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(Serial No. 209), 147186.
Fanshel, D., Finch, S., & Grundy, J. (1989). Modes of exit from foster family care and adjustment at time of departure of children with unstable life histories. Child Welfare, 68, 391402.
Fanshel, D., & Shin, E. (1978). Child behavior characteristics of foster children. In D. Fanshel & E. Shin (Eds.). Children in foster care: A longitudinal investigation (pp. 325372). New York: Columbia University Press.
Garmezy, N. (1993). Children in poverty: Resilience despite risk. Psychiatry, 56, 127152.
Garmezy, N., & Masten, A. (1994). Chronic adversities. In M. Rutter, L. Hersov, & E. Taylor, (Eds.). Child and adolescent psychiatry (3rd ed., pp. 191208). Oxford: Blackwell.
Halfon, N., Mendonca, A., & Berkowitz, G. (1995). Health status of children in foster care: The experience of the center for the vulnerable child. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 149, 386392.
Harrington, D. M., Block, J. H., & Block, J. (1978). Intolerance of ambiguity in preschool children: Psychometric considerations, behavioral manifestations, and parental correlates. Developmental Psychology, 14, 242245.
Heister, M., Carlson, E. A., & Sroufe, L. A. (1993). The evolution of friendship in preschool, middle childhood, and adolescence: Origins in attachment history. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, LA.
Hochstadt, N., Jaudes, P., Zimo, D., & Schachter, J. (1987). The medical and psychological needs of children entering foster care. Child Abuse and Neglect, 2, 5362.
Hulsey, T., & White, R. (1989). Family characteristics and measures of behavior in foster and non-foster children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59, 502509.
Jones, M. D. (1985). A second chance for families: Five years later follow-up of a program to prevent foster care. New York: Child Welfare League of America.
Landsverk, J. (1996, April). The mental health needs of children in foster care: A case of benign neglect? Paper present at the University of Minnesota Foster Care Symposium.
Landsverk, J., & Garland, A. F. (1999). Foster care and pathways to mental health services. In P. A. Curtis, G. Dale, Jr., J. C. Kendall, & J. D. Rockefeller, IV (Eds.), The foster care crisis: Translating research into policy and practice. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Lynch, M., & Cicchetti, C. (1991). Patterns of relatedness in maltreated and non maltreated children: Connections among multiple representational models. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 207226.
Maas, H., & Engler, R. (1959). Children in need of parents. New York: Columbia University Press.
Masten, A. S., & Garmezy, N. (1985). Risk, vulnerability and protective factors in developmental psychopathology. In B. Lahey & A. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 8, pp. 152). New York: Plenum Press.
Masten, A. S., & Wright, M. (1998). Cumulative risk and protection models of child maltreatment. In B. B. R. Rossman & M. S. Rosenberg (Eds.), Multiple victimization of children: Conceptual, developmental, research and treatment issues. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.
Matas, L., Arend, R., & Sroufe, L. A. (1978). Continuity of adaptation in the second year: The relationship between quality of attachment and later competent functioning. Child Development, 49, 547556.
McCrone, E. R., Egeland, B., Kalkoske, M., & Carlson, E. A. (1994). Relations between early maltreatment and mental representations of relationships assessed with projective storytelling in middle childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 99120.
McDonald, T. P., Allen, R. I., Westerfelt, A., & Piliavin, I. (1996). Assessing the long-term effects of foster care. A research synthesis. Washington, DC: CWLA Press.
McIntyre, A., & Keesler, T. (1986). Psychological disorders among foster children. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 15, 297303.
Milan, S. E., & Pinderhughes, E. E. (2000). Factors influencing maltreated children's early adjustment in foster care. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 6381.
Pianta, R. C., Erickson, M. F., Wagner, N., Kreutzer, T., & Egeland, B. (1990). Early predictors of referral for special services: Child based measures versus mother–child interaction. School Psychology Review, 19, 240250.
Pianta, R. C., Sroufe, L. A., & Egeland, B. (1989). Continuity and discontinuity in maternal sensitivity at 6, 24 and 42 months in a high risk sample. Child Development, 60, 481487.
Puig-Antich, J., & Chambers, W. (1978). The schedule for affective disorders and schizophrenia for school-aged children. New York: New York Psychiatric Institute.
Rutter, M. (1987). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 316331.
Rutter, M. (2000). Children in substitute care: Some conceptual considerations and research implications. Children and Youth Services Review, 22, 685703.
Shah, C. P. (1974). Psychiatric consultations in a child welfare agency. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, 19, 393.
Simms, M., & Halfon, N. (1994). School performance of children in kinship care. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 587597.
Sroufe, L. A. (1996). Emotional development: The organization of emotional life in the early years. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Swire, M., & Kavaler, F. (1977). The health status of foster children. Child Welfare, 58, 635653.
Theis, S. (1924). How foster children turn out. New York: State Charities Aid Association.
US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau. (2003). The AFCARS report. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
United States General Accounting Office. (1995). Child welfare: Complex needs strain to capacity. GAO/HEHS-95-208. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
Weinfield, N. S., Sroufe, L. A., Egeland, B., & Carlson, E. A. (1999). The nature of individual differences in infant–caregiver attachment. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical applications (pp. 7395). New York: Guilford Press.
Weinstein, E. (1960). The role of placement experiences in mediating the criminal consequences of early childhood victimization. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 61, 195209.
Zima, B. T., Bussing, R., Freeman, S., Yang, X., Belin, T. R., & Forness, S. R. (2000). Behavior problems, academic skill delays and school failure among school-aged children in foster care: Their relationship to placement characteristics. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9, 87103.
Zuravin, S. J., & DePanfilis, D. (1997). Factors affecting foster care placement of children receiving protective services. Social Work Research, 21, 3442.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Development and Psychopathology
  • ISSN: 0954-5794
  • EISSN: 1469-2198
  • URL: /core/journals/development-and-psychopathology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed