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

Do Patterns of Illegal and Substance Use Behaviors Differ Among Former Foster Youth and the General Population?

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 9:45 AM
Nautilus 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Susan M. Snyder, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Rose Medeiros, PhD, Quantitative Methodologist, Rice University, Houston, TX
Background/Purpose: Emerging adults (18 to 25 years old) with histories in foster care experience disproportionate rates of substance abuse and criminal involvement.  Specifically, emerging adults who were formerly in foster care have significantly higher lifetime rates of alcohol and drug dependence than the general population (11.3% vs 7.1%, and 21.0 vs. 4.5 respectively)(White, et al., 2008).  In addition, several studies have found that approximately a third of former foster care youth have been arrested after leaving foster care (Barth, 1990; Courtney et al., 2005; Havalchak et al., 2008). Cusick et al.’s (2012) study of 728 young adults in the Midwest study found that arrests were evenly distributed among violent, property and drug offenses.  These numbers are especially disconcerting because less than 1% of youth are in foster care (Howden & Meyer, 2011; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services & Administration on Children, 2011).  The incidence of illegal behaviors likely exceeds prison populations or arrest rates because these numbers only represent the individuals who were caught.  Despite disproportionate substance abuse, arrest and incarceration rates for former foster youth, the co-occurrence of substance use and illegal behaviors remains largely unexamined.  Thus, this study asks: Do patterns of illegal and substance use behaviors differ among former foster youth and the general population?

Methods: The study utilizes existing data from Wave III (2002) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The sample included 15000 participants, 358 who reported a foster care history (FC) and 14671 from the general population (GP). Measures for illegal and substance use behaviors included four questions regarding property offenses, two questions regarding violent offenses, and 10 questions regarding substance use and abuse that ranged from tobacco use to cocaine use. Analysis was done in MPLUS 6.1. Latent class analysis (LCA) was used to conduct a two-group comparison of the delinquency and substance use behaviors of participants with and without a history in foster care. LCA is a person-centered analytic approach that generates empirically based typologies by generalizing information to persons instead of variables. Traditional GLM approaches obscure these patterns. Following the LCA Wald tests were conducted to compare results for each variable used in the LCA.

Results: Former foster youth had damaged property (FC= 9.8% GP=8.8%), smoked cigarettes (FC= 75.9% GP=65.6%), used marijuana (FC= 48.5% GP=44.3%) and used cocaine (FC= 13% GP=9.9%) more than the general population. Four resulting classes were the same for both groups: severe (FC=5.8% GP=7.66%), moderate (FC=4.64% GP=9.12%) minimal (FC=27.06% GP=27.1%) and normative (FC=62.5% GP=56.12%). Those in the minimal class only used substances, while those in moderate and severe classes engaged in illegal behaviors and abused substances. Former foster care youth classified as severe class experienced alcohol related problems with friends (FC=0.657 GP=0.296, p<0.05) and dating (FC=0.707 GP=0.289, p<0.05) more than general population respondents.

Conclusion: The results also elucidate how specialized interventions could be tailored to address co-occurring substance abuse and illegal behaviors. Further studies are needed to fully understand the interrelationships of illegal and substance use behaviors among former foster youth.