Updated 15 February 2019

Foster kids more likely to have ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common behavioural health diagnosis among children enrolled in Medicaid in America.

A new study to be presented at the American Academy of Paediatrics 2015 National Conference & Exhibition in Washington, DC, found that children in foster care were three times more likely than others to have an ADHD diagnosis.

Substantial need for medical and behavioural services

- More than 1 in 4 children between the ages of 2 and 17 who were in foster care had received an ADHD diagnosis, compared to about 1 in 14 of all other children in Medicaid.

- Children with ADHD who were in foster care were also more likely to have another disorder, with roughly half also diagnosed with conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder, depression, or anxiety. This is compared to about 1 in 3 children with ADHD in Medicaid who were not in foster care.

- Among children with an ADHD diagnosis, those in foster care were as likely as others to be treated with ADHD medication but were more likely to have received psychological services; About 3 out of 4 of the children with ADHD in foster care received some psychological care in 2011.

Lead author Melissa Danielson, MSPH, a statistician with the CDC's National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said findings that children in foster care experience high rates of ADHD along with other, simultaneous behavioural disorders as compared to their peers in Medicaid shows a substantial need for medical and behavioural services within this group.

The high proportion of children with ADHD in foster care who receive psychological services was promising, she said, especially since behaviour therapy is recommended as the first-line treatment for preschoolers with ADHD and is preferred in conjunction with medication as treatment for school-aged children with ADHD.

"As we work to improve the quality of care for children with ADHD, it will be important to consider the needs of special populations, including those in foster care," Ms. Danielson said. "Working together, primary care and specialty clinicians can best support the health and long-term well-being of children with ADHD."

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Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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