Doctors say parent neglect can change the DNA of a child and lead to long-term health effects, such as mental illness, as adults.
Doctors at Children's Health used the science to develop a new clinical model at the new Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence.
It is the state's first center dedicated to the advancement of health for children in foster care.
The population of foster care children can be considered especially vulnerable to mental health disorders.
Dr. Anu Partap, assistant professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Rees-Jones Center for Foster Care Excellence at Children's Health, says the center is aimed at healing children from the day they enter the foster care program.
"If you've come into foster care, you've lived with circumstances that are going to affect your social and emotional health," Partap said.
She says parent neglect can lead to genetic changes in children.
"If that genetic code is changed because you're living with violence, you've been neglected, then that change to the genetic code for that receptor becomes permanent. That overdrive of stress hormones can lead to the onset of chronic conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder," Partap said.
"When they look at people who've hurt themselves or killed themselves, their brains are different in this particular region with these receptors. They grew up in a hurtful neglectful home," she added.
She says, however, the damage can be reversed with specialty care.
Melinda Nelson, of Rockwall, adopted two brothers who entered the foster care system from a difficult home situation.
"In our house, we can't read Three Little Pigs because the Big Bad Wolf comes and gets them and that sets off a trigger, so we just know what sets them off and try to live our lives that way," Nelson said.
The boys, ages now 10 and 8, suffered from post-traumatic stress and other issues, however, navigating "the system" to get them proper treatment was difficult, according to Nelson.
However, she found the help they needed at Children's Health foster care health clinic and says the boys are on the road to living happy, healthy lives.