Methods: The study used baseline, 18-month, and 36-month follow-ups from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW). The final sample included 950 youth aged 11 to 15. The samples were divided into four groups: foster youth, in-home youth, youth who were placed in foster-care at baseline and returned home at any subsequent wave, and youth who remained in home at baseline and then removed from home at any subsequent wave. CBCL Youth Self Report Internalizing and Externalizing behavior raw scores were used to measure youth behavior problems. Relatedness to the caregiver was measured using a shortened version of the Relatedness scale from the Rochester Assessment Package for Schools. Latent growth curve models were conducted using M-Plus 5.1. First, linear growth models were tested separately for behavior problems and caregiver relationships. Second, multi-group analyses were used to compare trajectories across four groups. Next, the relationship between caregiver relationships and behavior problems were examined. For all data analyses, sampling weights were used to explain the complex sampling design of NSCAW dataset.
Results: Linear growth models produced excellent model fits for internalizing/externalizing behavior problems and caregiver relationships. Internalizing behavior problems decreased slightly over 3-year period (M=-1.53, SE=0.33, p<.001). Conversely, externalizing behavior problems and caregiver relationships did not change significantly. Initial levels and rates of change of internalizing and externalizing problems and caregiver relationships were not significantly different between groups. The initial level of caregiver relationships was significantly related to initial levels of internalizing (B=-0.60, SE=0.09, p<.001) and externalizing (B=-0.42, SE=0.18, p<.05) problems. Rate of change of caregiver relationships was significantly related to rates of change of internalizing (B=-0.61, SE=0.08, p<.001) and externalizing (B=-0.77, SE=0.23, p<.001) problems.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate that youths' relationships with caregivers and behavior problems are comparable across groups. Irrespective of group status, caregiver relationships can have a significant influence on the manifestation of behavior problems. Understanding more about adolescents' relationships and behavior problems, and devising strategies for addressing them, will be helpful in planning targeted services for child welfare adolescents.