Child psychiatry program helps foster children

Being in foster care can be extremely stressful. Foster children not only lose parents and friends, they lose control of their lives.

Over the past decade, Downstate's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division has developed expertise in helping these children cope with their lives and with foster care. The division, which is located at Kings County Hospital, serves children from University Hospital of Brooklyn as well.

"Simply concentrating on schoolwork can be difficult for a foster child," says Dr. Moses Preiser, the division's director of psychology. "The early history of attachment disruptions, neglect or abuse, or trauma by most children we see contributes heavily to a variety of behavior problems."

Among those problems, says Dr. Preiser, are depression and suicidal tendencies, attention-deficit disorder, oppositional and disorderly behavior, and symptoms of psychosis.

A major priority in working with foster children is minimizing additional disruptions in the child's life. "Whenever possible, we avoid admitting the child to the hospital," says Dr. Preiser. "However, in certain instances, a short hospital stay is recommended because it may prevent the larger disruption of being sent to a new foster home."

Dr. Preiser and three of his colleagues presented their approach to caring for foster children at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. A representative of Guilford Press, impressed with their presentation, encouraged them to write a book on the topic for mental health professionals.

What's the secret of the division's success?

"As clinicians, we are challenged by the variety and complexity of the problems brought to our clinic every day, " responds Dr. Preiser. "The spirit of problem solving, along with the camaraderie, makes our service outstanding."