Rates of Emotional Disturbance Among Children in Foster Care: Comparing Federal Child Welfare Data and Medicaid Records in Two States

Lindsey Palmer, Sarah Font, Toria Herd, John Prindle, Emily Putnam-Hornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

The purpose of this study is to estimate the rate of emotional disturbance (ED) among children in foster care and assess the validity of the national foster care census data (AFCARS) measure of ED. This study used linked child protection and Medicaid records from 2014 and 2015, for the states of California and Wisconsin, as well as data from AFCARS, a federal population census of children in foster care which states are mandated to contribute to. ED is defined by AFCARS and includes an array of mental and behavioral health diagnoses. According to AFCARS, 13% of CA children in foster care and 15% of WI children in foster care had an ED, whereas Medicaid claims produce rates of 45% and 48%, respectively. Rates of ED among children in congregate care were underestimated by 43–46 percentage points, with substantial proportions having diagnoses of disruptive behavioral disorders. Despite the AFCARS ED measure being cited in congressional testimonies and its wide use in research, results from this study suggest that the AFCARS ED estimates are an unreliable metric for use in research, policy, or practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-13
Number of pages6
JournalChild Maltreatment
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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