Spotlight On Holistic Support for Youth Mental Health and Well-Being

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May 2023 Spotlight on Header

Holistic Support for Youth Mental Health and Well-Being


For the more than 391,000 children and youth in foster care, the largest unmet need is mental and behavioral health supports and services[1]. When left unchecked, adverse childhood experiences, trauma, and prolonged stress make children and youth more vulnerable to lifelong health and mental health difficulties with significant social and economic consequences. Mental and behavioral health support doesn’t just mean clinical therapy, it comes in many different forms. Trauma responsive care, support from caring adults who can provide life-long guidance, relationships with peers, and normative experiences during adolescence can help to mitigate earlier trauma and build a sense of belonging and security.


  • Youth who feel connected to adults and peers in school who care about their learning as well as about them as individuals during middle and high school have fewer problems with substance use, mental health, suicidality, and risky sexual behavior as adults[2].
  • How youth respond to stressors is much more important than the stressor itself in determining their outcomes. Youth are more likely to achieve healthy, favorable outcomes and to thrive if they learn to manage stressors through trusting relationship with a caring, encouraging and competent adult[3].
  • Foster children who participate in extracurricular school activities have increased academic performance and greater educational aspirations[4].

Dash of Data

Young adults in foster care were more likely to have mental health coverage than those no longer in care. State agencies and jurisdictions can work with communities to close this gap by connecting youth with mental health coverage and support before they transition out of care.

Data Visual

Note: Based on the National Youth in Transition database (NYTD)’s Fiscal Year 2017-2021 Outcomes Data Snapshot: National, which included all youth who were eligible to take the NYTD survey at ages 17, 19, and 21. “Eligible” participants included all youth reported by the state in foster care at age 17 at baseline and all youth in the follow-up populations at ages 19 and 21 not reported as incarcerated, incapacitated, or deceased.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Children’s Bureau,

Child welfare professionals can use a strength-based, holistic, and culturally responsive approach to connect youth with the supports they need. Early mental health assessment and intervention can help youth develop coping skills. Staff should recognize cultural differences to mental health treatment and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help. Program staff, resource parents, and other caring adults like teachers can advocate for youth, support connections to their culture, and promote their emotional well-being. Partnering with youth and their family to identify strengths and can build a foundation for healing. Encouraging youth participation in social and extracurricular activities will help youth and families build natural support networks.


Child welfare leaders must ensure program staff and resource parents have the resources and training to respond to youth in a trauma informed way and connect them with the supports they need. The Capacity Building Center for States has several resources to help agencies build capacity for supporting the well-being of youth in foster care:

Publications and Videos

Cole's story, "As a former child welfare worker, foster parent, and current adoptive parent, I saw first-hand the power of resiliency"

Learning Experience

Then and Now graphic
  • Then and Now: Looking Back and Moving Forward (Josh’s Story - video and discussion guide) – Shares first-hand accounts of foster care alumni pointing to trauma-informed strategies that build youth resilience and help create reserves for when crises hit.

Related Resources

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Related Organizations

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