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Suicide Among Youth: Issue Review

General Points

Youth is a specific layer of the human society which serves as a basis for the further development of the latter. However, the human society is a rather controversial phenomenon as it is supposed to ensure convenient and peaceful coexistence of people but offers quite an opposite. The modern society is a phenomenon filled with a number of political, economic, and, what is the most important, social issues. One of the latter is the problem of suicide of youth located at various facilities according to the Foster Care System which is being implemented in numerous countries around the world. Researchers have long been trying to find out the reasons for the youth suicide and see how the Foster System placement affects the suicide rates. Thus, the existing research in the topic develops from the essence of Foster Care System as such, through analyzing suicide factors and rates in both Single Family Foster Homes and Residential Group Facilities, to comparatively synthesizing the obtained data and making respective conclusions.

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Foster Care System


“We have listened to children and know that they have very clear ideas about what they want and need. Getting to live in the right place, not being moved around, and settling down so that they can fulfill their potential is vital.” (Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Wilson, K., & Gibbs, I., 7) This statement, with which the book referred to starts, was supposed to reflect the essence of the Foster Care System. At the initial stages of its development, the system was planned as an effective tool of helping children separated from parents by the court of law, or by any other reason, in finding accommodation, proper care, and basis for their future development. However, according to Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Wilson, K., & Gibbs, I. (2005), Barber, J. G., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2003), and many other authors, the system turned out to have serious drawbacks, and its current operation results in such phenomena as youth suicide.

Major Issues

Accordingly, the major issues of the Foster Care System can be reduced to the following list. First of all, the youth suicide discussed in this paper is the fundamental problem. However, its roots lie deep in the social problems such as increase rates of crime leading to family splits, divorce rate rise, poverty, mental and physical diseases. Accordingly, the next major issue of the system is its inability to properly defend youth from the effects of all the above mentioned social problems (Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Wilson, K., & Gibbs, I., 8). Moreover, considerable racial bias is observed in the issue by Farmer, E. M., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W. (2008), as minorities are reported to have worse treatment, placement and rates of successful development after Foster Care. So, the further discussion is to find out the relation of the above factors to the rates of youth suicide under Foster Care System.

Suicide among Foster Care Children

Single Family Foster Homes

Legal Perspective

To begin with, the reasons for suicide among the Foster Care youth should be looked for in the backgrounds of these people. For example, when a child is separated from the family where substance abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse or other negative phenomena are usual things. In these cases, the court of law makes a decision in which the child him/herself has no right to express their opinion. This, in its turn, leads to the psychological trauma experienced by this child, and can be called the legal perspective of the coming suicide of this child. Moreover, the issue of children abuse is quite common for foster family homes: “A number of researchers have noted a high incidence of child abuse in foster children” (Browne, 57) This issue has two sides, one of them being the inability of the system to properly supervise foster children at their foster family homes, and another one – the effects of the abuse upon the psychological state of foster youth after reaching adulthood. As Browne (2002) reports, 57% of the abused foster children resorted to suicide threats, while 52% of this population put their threats into practical suicide attempts (p. 57).

Psychological Perspective

Reactive Attachment Disorder. As far as the psychological perspective of the issue is concerned, the first phenomenon to be discussed is the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) observed in foster children: “Often, children who experience extreme, chronic trauma prior to age 5 develop Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). However, the diagnosis of RAD is often overlooked” (Sheperis, C. J., Renfro-Michel, E. L., & Doggett, R. A., 76). This author also stresses the legal perspective of the RAD development in foster children, claiming that abuse that took place in the early childhood can become, although often hidden, the reason for the further discussed cognitive disorders, maladaptive behavior, etc.:

When the provision of infant and toddler basic needs is not conducted in a consistent fashion, attachment becomes disrupted, causing difficulty in the conditioned response to rely on human relationships and also resulting in insecure attachment patterns. Chronic inconsistency in meeting infant and toddler needs as well as the introduction of early childhood trauma (i.e., abuse) may result in the formation of RAD (Sheperis, C. J., Renfro-Michel, E. L., & Doggett, R. A., 76).

Thus, issues of RAD are critical factors in the suicide rates among foster youth, especially in single family foster homes. Often, however, RAD is diagnosed as a pervasive disorder or an autistic disorder, and this diagnosis leads to the lack of proper treatment. Accordingly, children with RAD, although healthy and friendly at sight, are in danger of the highest suicide rates among all the foster youth as far as their psychological traumas, usually experienced up to the age of 5, disturb their consciousness. So, suicide among this group of foster youth is conditioned by the attempts to correct parents’ mistakes, anger and anxiety towards parents who left them or from whom these children were separated by the court decision.

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Cognitive and Other Disorders. Moreover, children in foster care are often reported to have cognitive disorders and other related issues. As a result, mental health problems lead to the high suicide rates among the foster youth. Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E. (2006) for example, deal with the issues of the academic success of foster youth, and come to the conclusion that the children placed either in foster homes of group facilities are commonly worse at study than children living in their biological families:

…foster youths have a high rate of absenteeism;.. score 15 percent to 20 percent below their peers on statewide achievement tests… dropped out of school at twice the rate of youths not in care, and in a Maine survey, 40 percent of foster youths had repeated at least one grade” (Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E., 233)

Further on, Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E. (2006), Reser (2004), and other scholars argue that academic troubles are results of mental issues and psychological traumatic experiences that foster youth has while in their biological families or foster care homes. Stating that “29 percent of these youths had a primary disability of emotional disturbance”, the authors see the direct connection between this phenomenon and suicide rates in foster children (Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E., 233).

Residential Group Facilities

Legal Perspective

Compared to single foster family homes, residential group facilities also have considerable issues influencing the children development and the respective suicide rates among foster youth. Although these issues differ from the ones of the foster home-placed children, their significance is obvious. One of the most important issues is the improper and instable placement of the foster youth. Farmer, E. M., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W. (2008) develop this issue in respect of the foster children with mental diseases or disabilities. Thus, according to these authors, children with out-of-home placement are at disadvantage in relation to those home-placed, as far as stressing factors are more often observed in such placements.

Moreover, group residential facilities develop the Reactive Attachment Disorder in children and create favorable environments for maladaptive behavior development: “Youth who were older and male were more likely to be placed. Youth who were placed in out-of-home placements had significantly more severe CBCL total scores, lower BERS total scores, and more individual risk factors.” (Farmer, 5) Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Wilson, K., & Gibbs, I. (2005) study the placement issues of healthy foster youth and conclude that placement is unequal according to the racial factor and the proportion of children placed in foster homes and group facilities.

Psychological Perspective

Drawing from the above presented legal issues, psychological ones become leading factors in increasing child suicide in residential group facilities. One of the psychological issues to be addressed is the maladaptive behavior of foster youth. In simple terms, this phenomenon can be described as the state when a child does not want to do something according to the standards. Moreover, these standards are viewed by him or her as expressions of perfectionism, and provoke the subliminal protest as far as in his or her family he or she has not got used to such strict demands. As a result, a child tries to act in contradiction to the standards established, and any attempt to impose some behavioral norms on him or her lead to depressions, anti-social behavior patterns, and suicide attempts: “For example, perfectionism, assessed various ways, has been found to be associated with depression, chemical use and abuse, chronic pain, coronary heart disease, eating disorders, procrastination, anxiety and suicide” (Rice, 210).

Moreover, scholars like Farmer, E. M., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W. (2008), Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E. (2006), and others discuss the major risk group among the youth placed in Foster Care System according to the potential of developing maladaptive behavior, RAD, and various kinds of other mental and psychological disorders, as those at the high risk of suicide in foster care: “Child psychiatric risk factors included history of substance use, history of running away, previous suicide attempt, previous psychiatric hospitalization, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.” (Farmer, E. M., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W., 5)

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Comparative Analysis

Accordingly, after the consideration of the data on suicide rates and suicide factors in both single family foster home and residential group facilities, it is possible to comparatively analyze these data and contrast them for the purposes of the further research. Thus, the major statement to be made here is that suicide rates are rather high among the youth placed in the Foster Care System. In single family foster homes, the major factors leading to such a state of things include the legal drawbacks of the system and the psychological issues that foster children can face. The former include the court-ruled separation of children from parents because of the alcohol or drug abuse of the latter, their criminal record or some other reasons. Moreover, foster children sexual abuse is also a matter of legal concern that results in the youth suicide quite often (see the chapter Single Family Foster Homes. Legal Perspective).

Compared to foster homes, group facilities face these and some other legal issues leading to suicide. Among those other issues the unequal placement, instability of placement (when a child is placed in several foster homes and group facilities within six months or more often), racial discrimination in respect of placement can be singled out. Thus, it is obvious that residential group facilities provide more factors that increase suicide rates among youth in them. However, the exact statistical data have not yet been gathered by scholars in this respect, and it is one of the assignments of this research work to fill in this gap.

As far as the psychological perspective of the issue is concerned, there are far more phenomena that influence foster youth and can be viewed as suicide factors. In both single family foster homes and residential group facilities, these factors include the improper treatment of children in their biological families, reactive attachment disorder caused by the previous factor and by the lack of Foster System officials’ attention to the RAD treatment, maladaptive behavior, pervasive and autistic disorders and various types of cognitive disorders. As a result of these issues, youth suicide in single family foster homes is rather high. Depressed children who are not aware of new demands that the foster family and the society sets for them are broken under the pressure of these factors, and very often the way out they choose is suicide. However, as it has already been stated, the research to obtain the exact proportion of suicide rates in single family foster homes and residential group facilities has not yet been carried out. The present paper is aimed at filling in this gap, as far as the issue of the youth suicide is one of the most burning for the modern society. Having found out the major factors that impact suicide rates in both locations discussed, it is necessary to conduct a direct research encompassing the study of literature and analysis of the accessible materials on the youth suicide in the Foster Care System.


Barber, J. G., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2003). Children in Foster Care. New York: Routledge.

Browne, D. (2002). Coping Alone: Examining the Prospects of Adolescent Victims of Child Abuse Placed in Foster Care. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 31(1), 57+.

Chipungu, S. S., & Bent-Goodley, T. B. (2004). Meeting the Challenges of Contemporary Foster Care. The Future of Children, 14(1), 74+.

Farmer, E. M., Mustillo, S., Burns, B. J., & Holden, E. W. (2008). Use and Predictors of Out-of-Home Placements within Systems of Care. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 16(1), 5+.

Geenen, S., & Powers, L. E. (2006). Are We Ignoring Youths with Disabilities in Foster Care? an Examination of Their School Performance. Social Work, 51(3), 233+.

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Reser, J. P. (2004). What Does It Mean to Say That Aboriginal Suicide Is Different? Differing Cultures, Accounts and Idioms of Distress in the Context of Indigenous Youth Suicide. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 2004(2), 34+.

Rice, K. G., & Preusser, K. J. (2002). The Adaptive/Maladaptive Perfectionism Scale. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 34(4), 210+.

Sheperis, C. J., Renfro-Michel, E. L., & Doggett, R. A. (2003). In-Home Treatment of Reactive Attachment Disorder in a Therapeutic Foster Care System: A Case Example. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 25(1), 76+.

Sinclair, I., Baker, C., Wilson, K., & Gibbs, I. (2005). Foster Children: Where They Go and How They Get on. London: Jessica Kingsley.

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