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.