Stressful life events experienced by clinically referred foster care and nonfoster care children

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Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Differences in the quantity and type of stressful life events experienced by foster children and nonfoster children, ages 2 through 6, were investigated. Forty-four foster children receiving services at a community mental health clinic were matched with 44 nonfoster children from the clinic based on age, gender, and ethnicity. The clinic files of the two groups then were examined with respect to the occurrence of various life events. The foster children experienced twice as many stressors as their nonfoster peers, including greater instability in their relationships with their siblings and primary caregiver, and, not unexpectedly, they had more risk factors involving maltreatment and parental substance use. Both groups experienced events related to medical/developmental and educational history at a high rate, suggesting that these are stressors relevant not only to foster care children but also to children of low socioeconomic status in general. Commonly used measures of stressful life events in young children do not include many of the items identified in this study as relevant to foster children and children living in poverty, indicating that the development of more appropriate measures is warranted.

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