- Alfano CA, et al. J Dev Behav Pediatr. https://bit.ly/3wMSI9y.
Foster families rarely received advice from caseworkers or health care providers on how to manage sleep problems experienced by children in their care, a recent survey of 485 caregivers found.
Studies have shown that children in foster care have high rates of emotional and behavioral problems, academic challenges, medical problems and chronic health conditions. Little research, however, has focused on sleep problems in this population.
Noting that sleep is essential for functioning across the lifespan, the authors of this study sought to find out if sleep problems among children in foster care are addressed and if so, how.
They recruited adults who care for 4- to 11-year-olds in the foster care system to complete an online survey. Participants were asked whether they had received information from their foster care agency about children’s sleep, if they had talked with a health care provider about their child’s sleep problems, if they gave the child a sleep aid and what they do to help their child sleep better.
Eighty-eight percent of the respondents were not relatives of the child. Children were with the caregiver for an average of 16.5 months.
Nearly 13% said they had received information from the foster agency about children’s sleep. Many mentioned that they needed information that was convenient to access and addressed the child’s trauma.
About 55% had spoken with a health care provider about their child’s sleep. The most common recommendations were to use melatonin (35%), keep a consistent bedtime routine (22%) and give prescription medication (19%). About 10% said they received no advice.
Half of the caregivers said they had given their child an over-the-counter sleep medication. Melatonin was used by 91% of them, but 40% said it was not helpful.
Caregivers reported a range of strategies to help their child fall asleep such as having a bedtime routine (63%), reading books (37%) and controlling noise (26%).
Among the study limitations noted by the authors was that caregivers may have completed the survey because they were concerned about their child’s sleep.
They suggested health care providers screen all children in foster care for sleep problems and provide education and support to families facing sleep challenges. Trauma-informed interventions also need to be developed.