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Child Maltreat. 2006 May;11(2):189-97.

Foster children's diurnal production of cortisol: an exploratory study.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, USA.


Young children in foster care have often experienced inadequate early care and separations from caregivers. Preclinical studies suggest that early inadequate care and separations are associated with long-term changes in regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In this study, the daytime pattern of cortisol production was examined among 55 young children who had been placed into foster care and 104 children who had not. Saliva samples were taken at wake-up, in the afternoon, and bedtime for 2 days. Average salivary cortisol values for each time of day were computed. A group (foster vs. comparison) time (morning, afternoon, night) interaction emerged, reflecting less decline in levels across the day for foster than comparison children. Daytime patterns were categorized as typical, low, or high. Children who had been in foster care had higher incidences of atypical patterns of cortisol production than children who had not. These differences suggest that conditions associated with foster care interfere with children's ability to regulate neuroendocrine functioning.

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