Children in foster care are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, compared with other children, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2015 National Conference in Washington, D.C.

Children with ADHD in foster care were also more likely to have a comorbid psychiatric condition, such as oppositional defiant disorder, depression, or anxiety, compared with children diagnosed with ADHD who were not in foster care.

ADHD is the most common behavioral diagnosis among children enrolled in Medicaid. However, there is little research concerning the relative prevalence of ADHD across different Medicaid eligibility categories, including having a low-income family, the presence of a disability, or being in foster care.

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Using data from 2011, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at outpatient and prescription drug claims for children between the ages of 2 and 17 years enrolled in Medicaid in 11 states. The frequency of ADHD diagnosis among children in foster care was 26%, compared with 7% for children not in foster care.

The results also showed that children diagnosed with ADHD in foster care had an increased likelihood of having another disorder: a 1 in 2 rate, compared with 1 in 3 among children with ADHD who were not in foster care.

The rate of children with ADHD treated with medication was 85%, regardless of foster care status. But children with ADHD in foster care were more likely to have received psychological services, compared with children with ADHD not in foster care (72% versus 43%).

“As we work to improve the quality of care for children with ADHD, it will be important to consider the needs of special populations, including those in foster care,” said Melissa Danielson, MSPH, from the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “Working together, primary care and specialty clinicians can best support the health and long-term well-being of children with ADHD.”


  1. Danielson M, Visser S, Leeb R. Abstract session H3049: The Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD Among Children in Foster Care Using Medicaid Claims Data, 2011. Presented at: The American Academy of Pediatrics 2015 National Conference; October 24-27, 2015; Washington, D.C.