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

The Relationship Between Extended Care and Arrests for Foster Youth During the Transition to Adulthood

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 2:30 PM
Marina 6 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
JoAnn S. Lee, MSW/MPA, Doctoral Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Mark E. Courtney, PhD, Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose

Youth aging out of the foster care system are at high risk for adult arrests, but providing extended support during the early years of the transition period may reduce this risk. Reducing arrests may make an important difference on the lives of these former foster youth, since an arrest in early adulthood can interfere with their acquisition of human capital and limit their access to housing and ability to find a job.  This study uses data from a study of youth aging out of the foster care system to estimate the potential benefit of providing extended foster care support and to identify other factors that may be related to the risk of arrest for these former foster youth during their early transition period.


This study uses survey data from the Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (Midwest Study) matched with official arrest data. The Midwest Study is a prospective study that sampled 732 youth from the foster care system in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. These youth were first interviewed when they were 17 or 18 as they were preparing to age out of care, and subsequently interviewed every two years up through age 25 (5 waves). The official arrest data was pulled from the three states, including all arrests up to March 14, 2008, around the time when participants were 22 or 23 years of age. Event history modeling techniques were used to estimate the impact of extended foster care on the risk of a first adult arrest, using non-parametric, parametric, and semi-parametric models. The event was the date of the first non-procedural arrest after turning 18, and extended care was a time-varying variable based on the date of discharge from the foster care system. Models were estimated for men and women separately, and for all non-procedural arrests and violent arrests only.


Being out of care in the first year and prior arrest were the strongest predictors for increasing the risk of arrest across models, even when controlling for self-reported delinquency. However, after the first year, being out of care was either not significant or associated with decreased risk of arrest. Among women, having a resident child was associated with decreasing the risk of non-procedural arrests, although this relationship did not appear with violent arrests. Black males experience a higher risk of both non-procedural and violent arrests than their white peers. Additionally, self-reported delinquency was associated with increasing the risk of non-procedural arrests for men, but not for women.

Conclusions and Implications

Extended support is associated with decreasing the risk of arrest in the first year, but appears to have a declining effect over time. This relationship may be obscured if time is not taken into account in the analyses. This suggests that providing extended support during the transition to adulthood for foster youth is beneficial for reducing arrests, in addition to the already established benefits of higher education, earnings, and pregnancy.