Bridging Disciplinary Boundaries (January 11 - 14, 2007)
We hypothesize that, although these high rates of offending among youth placed in out-of-home care are likely affected by family and environmental factors as well as histories of maltreatment, continued offending is in part due to the lack of support these youth have as they transition from the child welfare system to independent adulthood. The transition to adulthood is a period when youth form social bonds which may deter offending (Sampson and Laub, 1990). Yet, forming ties to people and institutions that have been found to deter offending is not an easy task. The transition to adulthood is an unstable period for all youth, and it is largely the support of families that help youth through this challenging period. Youth aging out of the child welfare system may be particularly challenged as they enter adulthood having been separated from their families, and therefore potentially without family support, yet also losing the support of the child welfare system. The question arises, then, as to how such a loss of support affects the likelihood of offending during the early transition to adulthood among youth who are left largely on their own.
Our study addresses this question by examining self-reported arrest among a sample of youth aging out of care in Illinois. Illinois is a unique state in which to study this issue because Illinois allows youth to remain in care until age 21. Yet not all youth remain in the system past their 18th birthday. We analyzed probit regression models to determine the effect of staying in care on the odds of getting arrested at age 19. Results of these analyses indicate a 64% decrease in the odds of arrest for those youth remaining in care past age 18. Bivariate probit regression models with instrumental variables, however, suggest that the relationship between remaining in care and arrest is in part due to selection factors. Findings have implications for policies that allow youth to remain in the child welfare system past age 18, as well as for how such policies can address crime prevention during the transition to adulthood among youth aging out of the child welfare system.