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Report: Half of children in out-of-home care have psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorders

A study found that 62 percent of kids placed outside the home were diagnosed with a mental disorder before the age of 18.

Kuvassa on maahan piirtyviä varjoja Helsingin keskustassa elokuussa 2020.
Children in out-of-home care comprise a significant proportion of individuals treated for severe and complex psychiatric disorders and self-harm. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

According to new research, well over half of children placed in care outside the home have been diagnosed with a psychiatric or neurodevelopmental disorder during childhood.

The study, carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the University of Turku, found that the most commonly-diagnosed disorders among kids placed in out-of-home care by child welfare authorities in Finland were depression and anxiety disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, and oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder (ODD/CD).

Results showed that 62 percent of children placed outside the home were diagnosed with a mental disorder before the age of 18. The corresponding figure for other children was 18 percent.

"The results emphasise that child protection workers need a solid understanding of how the mental health of children and young people should be supported in everyday life," stated THL's specialist researcher Antti Kääriälä in a press release on Monday.

Depression and anxiety disorders, behavioural and defiance disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders were the most diagnosed in placed children. A quarter or even 39 percent of children had such diagnoses.

In addition, the study found that out-of-home placements were particularly common in adolescents already diagnosed with a behavioural or defiance disorder, or who had been hospitalised for intentional self-harm.

The researchers investigated the use of special care services for all children born in Finland in 1997 and placements by child welfare authorities outside the home.

In addition to THL and the University of Turku, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, the Itla Children’s Foundation and Finland's Ombudsman for Children participated in the study.

The study's results were published in the European Journal of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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