Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among older youths in the foster care system

J. Curtis McMillen, Bonnie T. Zima, Lionel D. Scott, Wendy F. Auslander, Michelle R. Munson, Marcia T. Ollie, Edward L. Spitznagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To estimate the lifetime and past year prevalence rates of major psychiatric disorders in a sample of older youths in the foster care system, to examine the timing of disorder onset and system entry, and to explore variations in past year prevalence rates. Method: Using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for DSM-IV, interviews were conducted with 373 17-year-old youths (90% of those eligible) in one state's foster care system between December 2001 and June 2003. Results: Sixty-one percent of the youths qualified as having at least one psychiatric disorder during their lifetime; of these youths, 62% reported onset of their earliest disorder before entering the foster care system. In addition, 37% of youths met criteria for a psychiatric disorder in the past year. The number of types of maltreatment experienced was the most robust predictor of psychiatric disorder among several maltreatment variables. There were no differences in prevalence rates for youths in kinship care and those in nonkin foster families. Conclusions: Older youths in the foster care system have disproportionately high rates of lifetime and past year psychiatric disorders. Results support recommendations for initial and periodic mental health assessments for these youths and mechanisms to continue mental health services for young adults transitioning out of the foster care system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)88-95
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Child maltreatment
  • Foster care
  • Psychiatric disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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