The first 36 months of a child's life are a period of incredible brain development. What happens during these first months and years sets a child on their developmental pathway toward school and adulthood.
What do we know about children in foster care during these early years of life? Infants and toddlers in foster care are at increased risk of poor developmental outcomes as a result of increased uncertainty in their lives, and they are at increased risk of abuse, neglect and residential transience. The lasting implications of maltreatment and toxic stress on the cognitive, social and emotional growth of young children can have permanent ramifications if not suitably addressed.
- Approximately 20% of Shelby County children in state custody are less than five years of age (TN Department of Children Services, 2007).
- Almost 3 out 4 Shelby County child victim reports state that the child was neglected or physically abused (fosteringcourtimprovement.org). Abuse and neglect interferes with the positive growth of the synaptic links in the brain that are crucial to cognitive functioning and social well-being.
- In Shelby County, the median length of stay for children in foster care (March, 2007) is 22.8 months, almost eleven months longer than the state of Tennessee median length of stay of 12.1 months. Once they have been removed from their homes and placed in foster care, infants and toddlers are more likely than older children to stay in foster care longer (Wulczyn & Hislop, Zero to Three).
Policy Recommendations (From Zero to Three):
- Make sure that lawmakers and judges are knowledgeable about child growth and use that information to regulate security and permanence.
- Evaluate the psychological health needs of our youngest children in state custody and administer treatment as required.
- Increase and allocate solid funding to boost preventive services that safeguard and assist families.
For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org; and The State of Children in Memphis and Shelby County, available at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/DatabookProcessor.php.
Fostering Court Improvement. (2007). Statistics for Shelby County. Chicago, IL. Available at
TN Department of Children’s Services. (2007). Annual Report FY 2007. Nashville, TN. Available at http://www.tn.gov/youth/dcsguide/annualreport2007.pdf.
Wulczyn & Hislop, “Babies in Foster Care: The Numbers Call for Attention.” ZERO TO THREE Journal 22, no. 4, 14-15.
Zero to Three. (2009). Early Experiences Matter Policy Guide. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.