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Children in Care: Reducing Needs While Improving Mental Health Outcomes

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Background: Children in government care face extraordinary challenges, which often include histories of maltreatment as well as higher rates of mental disorders. Effective programs to prevent child maltreatment and to prevent and treat mental disorders among children in care are therefore greatly needed.

Method: We conducted three systematic reviews to determine: 1) effective programs for preventing or reducing rates of child maltreatment; 2) the prevalence of mental disorders for children in care; and 3) effective interventions for mental disorders for children in care.

Results: Our first review identified successful programs for preventing child maltreatment, including Nurse-Family Partnership, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and Multisystemic Therapy. Our second review found that the prevalence of mental disorders were approximately four times higher for children in care than the general population of children. Our third review identified several interventions for children in government care, including Fostering Healthy Futures and Middle School Success for prevention, and Parent Management Training and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for treatment.

Conclusion: Greater investments in supporting vulnerable children and families, including expanding the use of effective maltreatment prevention programs, can reduce the number of children in government care. For children who are in government care, the wider adoption of effective mental health prevention and treatment interventions can help them to flourish.
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