Mental health and substance use disorders among foster youth transitioning to adulthood: Past research and future directions

Judy R. Havlicek, Antonio R. Garcia, Douglas C. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


At a time when there is increasing attention being given to systematically integrating the well-being of children with the goals of safety and permanence in child welfare, little is known about the psychosocial functioning of foster youth transitioning to adulthood from substitute care. This article systematically reviews 16 peer-reviewed articles and/or research reports to identify lifetime and past year prevalence rates of mental health disorders and service utilization. At ages 17 or 18, foster youth are 2 to 4 times more likely to suffer from lifetime and/or past year mental health disorders compared to transition aged youth in the general population. Findings show that mental health service use declines at ages when the prevalence rate of mental health disorders is peaking. The findings of this review suggest the need to focus future efforts in three main areas: 1) setting a common research agenda for the study of mental health and service use; 2) routine screening and empirically supported treatments; and 3) integration and planning between child and adult mental health service systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-203
Number of pages10
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Amy Dworsky, Ph.D. for her thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this review. Her persistent attention to accuracy and detail is greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers. This review was supported by NIMH T32 MH019960-15 postdoctoral training grant. Partial support for the development of this article came from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism ( K23 AA017702 ; Smith). The opinions, however, are those of the authors and do not reflect official positions of the U.S. Government.


  • Aging out foster youth
  • Alcohol and substance use disorders
  • Mental health disorders
  • Mental health services
  • Prevalence rates of lifetime and past year psychiatric disorders
  • Transition aged foster youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental health and substance use disorders among foster youth transitioning to adulthood: Past research and future directions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this