By Nina Williams-Mbengue
The more than 400,000 children and youth currently in foster care face long-term risks from their exposure to violence, child maltreatment and other adverse childhood experiences.
Even removing children from their homes in order to protect them from future maltreatment can cause trauma. Once in foster care, children often experience multiple moves and changes—going from one foster home to another, moving from their original schools, and changing case workers, judges and attorneys.
Further, the costs are enormous. States pay $80 billion dollars annually on child abuse and neglect while children pay well into adulthood, with decreased workforce productivity and long-term health consequences including heart disease, cancer, depression, substance abuse, and unintended pregnancy.
So what can state lawmakers do?
State legislators can partner with child welfare agencies to reduce children’s length of stay in care, reduce the number of moves within foster care, ensure that there is adequate oversight of the use of psychotropic medications among foster children, require the coordination of health and mental health care for children, ensure that children remain connected to siblings and other relatives, and allow them to remain in their original schools.
Arizona, Connecticut, Texas and Washington have legislatively mandated the coordination of health and mental health for children in foster care. Lawmakers in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington required the oversight of the use of psychotropic medications by children and youth in care. Other states, such as Montana and Washington, have addressed children’s mental health care; Michigan and Minnesota required mental health screening and assessment for children entering care.
See more state legislation in NCSL’s Child Welfare Enacted Legislation Database. For more examples of ways states are addressing the social and emotional well-being of children in care, check out NCSL’s latest brief on The Social and Emotional Well-Being of Children in Foster Care.
Nina Williams-Mbengue is the Program Director of the Child Welfare Project within NCSL’s Children and Families Program.