How Can Foster Care Affect the Mind & Behavior Patterns of a Child?

By Taylor DiVico

Updated September 26, 2017

Girl being left out

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It might seem like the best solution to a dysfunctional or abusive home, but foster care can have lasting effects on the mind and behavior patterns of children within the system. Foster children move from one placement to the next at the discretion of case workers and the foster care system. This lack of control over their own lives and uncertainty in their future circumstances causes negative emotions, disorders and behaviors, stemming from abandonment and instability.

Low Self-esteem

Feelings of abandonment and displacement in foster children result from being separated from biological parents -- even when those parents might have been abusive or neglectful -- and moved from one place to the next within the foster care system. This sense of abandonment and lack of attachment can lead to low self-esteem in foster children who often feeling damaged, unwanted, unattached and unlovable. This basic desire to feel wanted and deserving of love can lead to behavioral patterns of neediness and a desire for numbness, which can lead to promiscuity and drug use. The constant search for approval can lead to perfectionism, paranoia, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies. Foster care can also cause behavioral problems such as bullying because foster children who harbor anger and sadness over their own feelings of inadequacy often want to promote the same feelings in others.

Attachment Problems

Foster care can prevent kids from forming healthy relationships and bonds with peers and adults if they constantly change foster homes. Multiple caregivers, abuse, neglect and abandonment can result in reactive attachment disorder, signified by strained relationships and a general lack of interested in socialization with others. The mental effects include distrust, and uncertainty in others, heightened by anxiety, fear and depression. Behavioral symptoms include:

  • avoidance of physical contact
  • straying from social interaction
  • remaining withdrawn
  • acting preoccupied or detached from people or activities
  • devoid of outward emotion
  • wanting to remain alone


Moving through the foster care system can stunt a child's emotional and mental development, particularly in those children who have experienced abuse, inadequate care and a lack of discipline or supervision.


The result of foster care and frequent changes in homes and caregivers can result in feelings of shame and a general dislike for one's self. Such a mental state combined with common foster care issues such as a lack of praise, affection, values and boundaries can lead to a general desire to belittle others, categorized as narcissism. A foster child that develops narcissistic personality disorder is affected mentally by not feeling accountable for his or her own actions, by exhibiting general apathy for others and by acting self-consumed, stemming from intrinsic jealousy and rejection 3. Behavior patterns include causing strained relationships by making others feel inferior, taking advantage of others, lacking empathy for feelings or situations, monopolizing conversations and seeking constant praise.