Neurodevelopmental disorders common among children in out-of-home care – family poverty associated with placements

Nearly one in five children with a neurodevelopmental disorder is placed in out-of-home care before the age of 18, according to research from the University of Oulu, Finland. Children diagnosed with ADHD are overrepresented among those placed outside the home.

The study utilised data from the national Finnish birth cohort 1997 study, comprising nearly 59,000 children, from birth to 18 years of age. Almost one in ten had received a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder before reaching adulthood.

Findings revealed that approximately 18% of children diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder experienced out-of-home placement. ADHD was twice as common among placed children compared to non-placed ones.

Children in out-of-home care who had neurodevelopmental disorders often also had other psychiatric diagnoses, such as conduct and oppositional disorders, substance use disorders, and depression and anxiety disorders.

The study also examined factors related to family circumstances of children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders and their association with placements. The received social assistance in the family was a key factor associating with placements. Parents of placed children also had psychiatric disorders more frequently.

"In the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, special attention should be paid to the overall family situation and challenges, such as parental mental health problems and family poverty. Family circumstances should be regularly assessed in children's healthcare services, and necessary support services for the entire family should be arranged in addition to the child's healthcare," stresses Chief Physician Sanni Penttilä, Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oulu.

The research provides valuable insights for policymakers and healthcare professionals, who should collaborate with families to find ways to support vulnerable children and adolescents. Adequate and timely support measures not only help reduce the number of children placed in out-of-home care but also improve their quality of life and future prospects.

The study was published in early March in the European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry journal: Penttilä, S., Niemelä, M., Hakko, H. et al. Child- and parent-related determinants for out-of-home care in a nationwide population with neurodevelopmental disorders: a register-based Finnish birth cohort 1997 study. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2024).

Last updated: 26.3.2024