Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16958 Placement Instability and Risky Behaviors Among Young Adults From Foster Care

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:30 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Tonia Stott, PhD, Post-Doc, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ
Background and Purpose: Young adults who age out of foster care have been shown to struggle significantly in all domains of well-being. They are also at-risk for engagement in risky behaviors. Substance abuse and risky sexual behaviors are two behaviors that can pose life-long consequences. While the literature documents this population's susceptibility to these behaviors, there is little information as to what the child welfare system can do differently to promote the well-being of young adults from foster care. Often, the risky behaviors of youth in foster care are contributed to their family of origin risks and histories of maltreatment. This study investigates the effect of placement stability on substance use and risky sexual behaviors while controlling for the effects of prior adversities.

Methods: Young adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who turned 18 while in the custody of Child Protective Services (CPS) were recruited to participate in a one hour telephonic interview. The final sample consisted of 114 young adults. A substance abuse scale (0-5) was created based on the frequency of use of all illicit substances and/or intoxication in the past six months. A risky sexual behaviors scale (0-5) was created based on participants' number of sexual partners, their use of condoms, and their use of other forms of birth control (female pharmaceutical and barrier methods) during consensual intercourse in the past three months. The total number of placements until age 18 for each participant was garnered through administrative records. The prior adversity variables in the equation included the family of origin risks of parental substance abuse, domestic violence, parental incarceration, and extreme poverty; a history of neglect, physical abuse, and/or sexual abuse; and having been the victim of intimate partner violence before the age of 18. Race and sex were also included as control variables. Regression analyses were used to address the research question.

Results: On average, participants had entered foster care at age 15 and subsequently moved every 6 months thereafter. Twenty percent had used illicit substances and/or been intoxicated once a week or more in the previous six months. When controlling for prior adversities, there was a statistically significant relationship between placement stability and substance use (p < .05). Thirty-three percent had engaged in highly risky sexual behaviors in the previous three months and/or were currently pregnant. While the relationship between this variable and placement stability was not statistically significant (b =.06, p <.1), it may have practical implications due to the relationship approaching significance.

Conclusion and Implications: While family of origin risks and maltreatment history influence engagement in risky behavior, placement instability, above and beyond these risks may also be creating greater vulnerability among youth who age out of foster care. Child welfare policy makers and practitioners may need to address the high rate of placement instability among older youth in care. The relational and ecological disruptions and losses associated with continual movement may be decreasing youths' resilience in their transition to young adulthood.

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