The emotional and behavioural symptom trajectories of children in long-term out-of-home care in an English local authority

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The significant mental health needs of young people in out-of-home care has been well-documented. However, there is little empirical evidence on the timing or development of these difficulties, once these young people have been removed from the maltreatment-environment. Such information may provide useful clinical insight in to how problems develop and persist and whether intervention timings may allow for the prevention of later mental health problems. The current service-data study explored the emotional and behavioural symptom trajectories of 207 young people under the long-term care of a local authority in the South West of England, over their first five years in the care system. Data were extracted from the yearly carer-completed strengths and difficulties questionnaire – providing an index of emotional problems, peer problems, conduct problems and hyperactivity. Trajectories were analysed using growth mixture modelling. For most domains the largest trajectories were chronic symptom profiles, where young people were rated in the abnormal range from their first year in care and remained in this range across the full five years. These young people had significantly more placement moves than their peers on resilient trajectories. There was some evidence that later age of removal was associated with more chronic internalising problems. Overall, findings demonstrate the significant mental health needs of young people in care and particularly highlight that, in many cases, the removal from the adverse environment is simply not enough to expect a young person in care to be resilient to their earlier experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-117
Number of pages12
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Child maltreatment
  • Foster care
  • Internalising and externalising
  • Looked after children
  • Prospective
  • Symptom trajectories

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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