Tulane study says foster children in stable homes fare best in adolescence

June 25, 2015

Keith Brannon
Phone: 504-862-8789

Foster children placed in a consistent, stable home throughout their development have fewer emotional and behavioral problems as they reach adolescence – even if they experienced significant neglect as infants, according to a new Tulane University study published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“Our study provides greater evidence for the importance of high-quality foster care that is consistent across the child's life,” said lead author Kathryn Humphreys, a postdoctoral fellow in infant mental health at Tulane University School of Medicine. “The reality is that often children move between families if they are in foster care, and those disruptions from stable placements are likely to be harmful for their psychological health.”

The study, which is part of the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, followed 110 children abandoned in Romanian orphanages in the early 2000s. Half were randomly assigned to foster care while others continued in institutional care. These groups were compared to a separate group of children raised by their families.

Researchers found that abandoned children placed in the same high-quality foster families by age 12 had low levels of internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and externalizing symptoms such as oppositional behaviors or defying adults. They were no different than community comparison children who were raised by their own families. However, children who were disrupted from their original foster family had worse outcomes with higher levels of both internalizing and externalizing symptoms that were no different than children in the institutional care group.

“Our study found that it isn't just placing children in foster homes that is beneficial for long-term psychological health, but rather having the same foster family over time that results in those benefits,” Humphreys said.

The study was co-authored by Tulane researchers Dr. Charles Zeanah, Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, Dr. Stacy Drury and Devi Miron in collaboration with Dr. Charles Nelson of Harvard University and Nathan Fox of the University of Maryland.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000