Methods: Using administrative data from a larger cohort of youth born between 1985 and 1994 ever involved in the child welfare system in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, youth were defined as “aged out” if they were 17 and older when they left care and had spent a year or more in out-of-home placement (n=1,244). A series of logistic regression analyses were run to examine relationships between individual characteristics and child welfare experiences and involvement in the mental health, drug and alcohol, hunger and housing, juvenile justice, and criminal justice systems.
Results: Overall, 83% of the youth received mental health services and 39% drug and alcohol services; 25% of the youth had involvement with the juvenile justice system, 22% with the criminal justice system, and 9% with the hunger and homelessness system. African American youth in the sample were more likely than the White youth to be involved in the criminal justice system (although not the juvenile justice system), but less likely to be involved with the mental health and drug and alcohol systems. Young women were less likely to be involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems than young men. Placement instability was related to increased likelihood of involvement in all of the systems except the criminal justice system. Additionally, involvement in the mental health, drug and alcohol, and hunger and housing systems were all associated in analyses. Similarly, there was a relationship between juvenile justice and criminal justice involvement, and youth who were older when they left care were less likely to be involved in the justice systems.
Implications and conclusion: Several areas for further research are suggested by these analyses. Do White youth who age out of the child welfare system experience more mental health and substance abuse problems than African American youth, or are they just more likely to receive needed help? Why do we find racial differences in criminal but not juvenile justice involvement? Finally, the relationship between placement instability and other system involvement needs to be examined further to understand temporality and causation, so that we can determine whether placement instability is causing mental health and other problems, or whether it is such problems that make some youth more difficult to care for.