Suicide Prevention Among Foster and Transitional Foster Youth

Without question, suicide leaves a community mourning, grief-stricken, and devastated. Nothing can account for the loss of life and potential suicide leaves the family, friends, and greater community to deal with in the aftermath. As we work to raise awareness for suicide prevention this month, we’d like to highlight the increase danger foster youth face. We can only work to prevent suicide amongst foster youth by acknowledging their increased risk, as well as teaching prevention methods to foster caregivers, professionals, and our greater community.

Foster Youth & Suicide Statistics

  • Foster care teens were nearly 2.5 times more likely to seriously consider suicide than their peers
  • Foster care teens were nearly four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide
  • Childhood abuse or trauma increases the risk of attempted suicide by 2-to-5 times
  • Two thirds of suicide attempts may have direct correlation to abusive and traumatic childhood experiences
  • A study of 8-year-olds treated for or at risk for maltreatment found 10% reported thoughts of suicide

Studies show that foster youth experience a higher incidence of PTSD than combat veterans, so it is easy to see why the same youth are 3 to 5 times more likely to die by suicide than their peers. Suicide ideation is often the result of sustained trauma, depression, and other mental illnesses, which studies routinely show plague our foster youth before they enter long-term foster care. These disheartening statistics do not apply solely to current foster youth, as studies also show transitional foster youth are more than twice as likely to suffer from suicide as their peers. These statistics do not have to plague or foster youth. It may be impossible for us to change their past, but our actions can directly impact, and reshape their future.

The first step in preventing suicide in foster care youth is learning how to identifying youth in danger, and becoming aware and informed of the warning signs. Sadly, many youth in foster care experience a multitude of risk factors that increase their likelihood of engaging in suicidal behavior.

Suicide Risk-Factors Among Youth

  • Mentally ill including substance-abusing parents
  • Domestic violence
  • Social isolation
  • Childhood trauma
  • Repeated, unmitigated trauma
  • Un-treated mental illness and substance abuse (in teens)
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Family conflict and dysfunction
  • Violence and victimization
  • Bullying
  • Poor coping skills
  • Family history of suicide
  • Exposure to suicide and suicide attempt
  • Firearms availability
  • Self-injury and/or prior suicide attempts

To combat these risk factors, caregivers, foster parents, and professionals should work to establish protective factors in at-risk foster and transitional foster youth. A lack of access to help and support further isolates foster youth, and continues to create challenges for the youth’s emotional healing. Through providing these protective factors, and advocating and supporting measures that provide services that build protective factors, families and caregivers can help reduce or mitigate some of the risk factors our foster youth face.

Protective Factors Against Suicide in At-Risk Youth

  • Promote psychological and emotional well-being and health
  • Create family connectedness
  • Create a safe school that promotes school connectedness
  • Build self-esteem
  • Become a caring, and trusting adult
  • Help build academic achievement
  • Create connectedness, support, and open communication with parents (or a trusting adult)
  • Teach coping skills
  • Physical activity and sports
  • Reduce access to alcohol, medications, drugs, and firearms

It is imperative that current and former foster youth receive trauma-focused therapy that teaches the youth positive ways to react to stress and manage emotional and traumatic triggers. As a part of ongoing support and advocating for the foster youth, foster parents can attend mental health visits, and continue to talk with the youth about their positive steps towards healing. This continued support acts as a protective factor in the youth’s life.

Here at Walden, we provide current and transitional youth trauma-informed therapy to help them heal. We holistically engage their caretakers in ongoing support and education to foster healing, and work hard to build a network of caregivers and adults committed to our youth’s success. We encourage you to join us, by helping to spread awareness and supporting our foster youth.