Method: The current analysis used a sub-sample from a federally funded research project examining the psychological and developmental impact of maltreatment. The Services Assessment for Children and Adolescents was used to garner information regarding need for mental health services, referral source, and service use. The gender-balanced sample includes 84 maltreated youth who were receiving mental health treatment at intake. Youth were residing with biological parents (56%) or in foster placement (44%). The average age was 10.8 years and they were ethnically Latino (50%), African American (30%), or Other (20%). Chi square and logistic regression analyses were performed via SPSS.
Results: There was a significant relationship between placement type and from whom parents sought help. Biological caregivers were more likely to talk to family members (÷2(1) = 4.169, p<.05) and law officials such as a judge, probation officer, or lawyer (÷2(1) = 4.65, p<.05), while foster parents were more likely to talk with an individual not listed (÷2(1) = 5.23, p<.05). Youth remaining in the home of origin were more likely to have received a mental health referral from a law official (÷2(1) = 3.87, p<.05). This study also found that impoverished families were less likely to talk to religious figures (p=.037, OR= .044) and less likely to receive a referral from school personnel (p=.05, OR= 1.37) and African American youth were significantly more likely to receive a referral from law officials (p=.038, OR=8.65).
Conclusions/Implications: These findings indicate differences in mental health help-seeking depending on placement type. To retain custody, maltreating biological parents come to access mental health care by a more coercive source than foster parents. Additionally, this study supports research suggesting that child welfare system involvement is not a direct pathway into mental health care, highlighting the need to further address how maltreated youth come to access mental health services and to distinguish how this differs based on where the youth resides.