The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Emancipated Foster Youth and Intimate Partner Violence: An Exploration of the Factors That Put Youth At Risk

Friday, January 18, 2013: 2:30 PM
Marina 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Colleen E. Cary, LMSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: Youth who age out of the foster care system are more likely to become involved in violent intimate partnerships in young adulthood than their partners who have not aged out of the foster care system (Courtney et al, 2011; Jonson-Reid et al, 2007). It has been hypothesized that this finding may be a result of the Cycle of Violence (Widom, 1989), or the belief that youths who witness or experience parental maltreatment are more likely to imitate these behaviors in their romantic relationships than their peers who have not been exposed to violence. We test this hypothesis and examine other factors that contribute to the likelihood that former foster youth will become involved in violent partnerships.  Subjects were participants in the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study), a longitudinal study following young adults making the transition to adulthood from foster care.

 Methods: An abbreviated version of the Conflict Tactics Scale measured both perpetration and victimization of relationship violence (Straus et al, 1996).  Relationship status ((our dependent variable): (0) not being in a relationship, (1) being in a violent relationship or (2) being in a non-violent relationship) was measured at Wave 4 (age 23-24; N=602). We examined the relationship between parental neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse at baseline (age 17-18) and relationship type at Wave 4. We also evaluated the relationship between other theory-driven variables (measured at baseline) and relationship type at Wave 4. We employ descriptive statistics, bivariate analyses and multinomial logistic regression.

 Results: A sizeable percentage of emancipated foster youth identified as being involved in a violent relationship at twenty-three (20%). 35% identified as not being in any relationship and 44% identified as being in a non-violent relationship. Our analyses do not show that youths who were neglected, physically abused or sexually abused prior to baseline were significantly more likely to be in a violent relationship at age 23.  However, multivariate analyses did show that youths who identified as coming from homes in which there was domestic violence at baseline were significantly more likely to be in violent relationships. Further, youths who scored high on avoidant attachment measures and/or were very close to a biological adult family member at or before baseline were also at significant risk of becoming involved in a violent partnership.

 Implications: This study assesses the rates of violent intimate partnership of emancipated foster youth in a larger and more representative sample and over a longer period than used in prior research.  Understanding risk factors is critical for developing targeted prevention/intervention programs for youth in the foster care system. These data contribute to the knowledge base by testing, and moving beyond, the Cycle of Violence hypothesis.