Common Behavioral Problems of Children Placed in Foster Care

Being in foster care can profoundly affect a child's mental health and his ability to interact with others 1. Foster parents and others interacting with foster children should be aware that the children's fluctuating emotions can also lead to changes in behavior at home and school. The more changes they experience, including changes in caregivers, the more likely young children are to develop behavioral problems.

Attachment Disorder

According to a report by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, disruptions in attachment relationships caused by foster care can lead to a condition known as reactive attachment disorder, or RAD. It can manifest in a variety of behaviors in relation to caregivers, including being withdrawn; appearing sad and listless; failing to smile; failing to reach out when picked up; and showing lack of interest in interactive games or toys.

Defying Authority

After being removed from their home and placed with strangers, foster care children often have increased levels of stress and insecurity. According to the American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, most children in foster care feel insecure and uncertain about their future. According to a report by the Washington State University Cooperative Extension, feeling insecure frequently leads to children defying authority.This could include refusal to listen to authority figures or intentionally doing the opposite of what is asked.

Sibling Aggression

According to the New York University Child Study Center, foster children are at high risk for perpetrating sibling aggression and violence. This could mean participating in physical fights with natural or foster care siblings. This behavior could result from family separation or adversity between siblings in the child's biological family.


Constant crying and clinging behaviors are also sometimes observed in foster care children who have endured constant changes in caregivers. Visits with biological parents during foster care can further confuse children and lead to excessive crying, especially in younger children.