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Objective: To inform child and adolescent psychiatrists about the almost 500,000 children now residing in the American foster care system. This overview surveys the pediatric, developmental, and psychiatric needs of these children.

Method: Child and adolescent psychiatrists, pediatricians, a child welfare researcher, a social worker, and a psychologist developed a consensus paper from their experience with child welfare and a review of the literature in their respective fields.

Results: Being in foster care is a defining experience in these children's lives. They are at risk in myriad ways: for instance, being poor, having chronic health deficits, experiencing the trauma of abuse and neglect, and suffering from a gamut of emotional challenges. Evolutionary developments in foster care such as therapeutic foster homes, kinship care, and changes in Medicaid funding will continue to alter the system.

Conclusions: Foster children are a huge reservoir of unmet pediatric and psychiatric needs; research on them is spotty at best. It is hoped that child and adolescent psychiatrists will meet the challenges these youngsters present and will advocate for them.

Copyright 1997 (C) American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry