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Avoidable mortality among child welfare recipients and intercountry adoptees: a national cohort study
  1. A Hjern1,2,
  2. B Vinnerljung1,3,
  3. F Lindblad4,5,6
  1. 1Centre for Epidemiology, National Board of Health and Welfare, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Women and Children’s Health, Uppsala University, Sweden
  3. 3Centre for Evaluation of Social Services, National Board of Health and Welfare, Stockholm, Sweden
  4. 4Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of Psychosocial Factors and Health Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  5. 5The Swedish National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health, Stockholm, Sweden
  6. 6National Institute for Psychosocial Medicine, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to:
 Associate Professor A Hjern
 Centre for Epidemiology, Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, 106 30 Stockholm, Sweden;


Objective: To compare rates of avoidable mortality in adolescence in child welfare recipients and intercountry adoptees with the general population.

Design: A register study of the entire national cohort of 989 871 Swedish residents born 1973–82 in the national census of 1990. Multivariate Cox analyses of proportional hazards were used to analyse avoidable deaths between 13 to 27 years of age during 1991–2000.

Participants: 12 240 intercountry adoptees, 6437 foster children, 15 868 subjected to other forms of child welfare interventions, and the remaining 955 326 children in the cohort.

Results: Intercountry adoptees had a high sex and age adjusted relative risk (RR) for suicide death only (RR 3.5; 95% CI 2.3 to 5.0) in comparison with the general population, while foster children and adolescents who had received other kinds of child welfare interventions had high sex and age adjusted RRs for suicide death; 4.3 (2.8 to 6.6) and 2.7 (1.9 to 3.9) respectively, as well as for other avoidable deaths; RRs 2.5 (1.6 to 3.7) and 2.8 (2.1 to 3.6). The RRs of avoidable deaths for foster children and other child welfare recipients decreased considerably when compared with youth brought up in homes with similar psychosocial characteristics as their original home.

Conclusion: Children in substitute care in early childhood were at particular risk for suicide death in adolescence and young adulthood. Child welfare interventions were insufficient to prevent excess deaths in children at risk.

  • child welfare
  • mortality
  • RR, relative risk
  • HR, hazard ratio
  • SES, socioeconomic status

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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