The Relationship Between Foster Care, Time Homeless, and Recent Methamphetamine Use Among Homeless Former Foster Youth
Method: The YouthNet data set was used for this analysis, comprised of a community-based sample of 652 homeless youth ages 13-25 from two drop-in centers in Hollywood and Santa Monica, CA. A subset of this data was used for the current analysis, focusing on youth aged 18-25. All responses were based on self-reports and included questions regarding foster care experience, time homeless, and recent meth use. Methamphetamine use was measured by frequency in the last 30 days. A path analysis was run in SAS to examine the mediating effect of time homeless on the relationship between foster care experience and recent methamphetamine use.
Results: From the overall sample, nearly 40% reported being in foster care at some point in their lives, the majority of respondents reported being male, heterosexual, and African American. The average time homeless was reported as 3.9 years. There was a significant total effect between foster care experience and recent meth use (β=.110, t=2.73, p<.01). However, the direct effect between foster care and meth use was insignificant (β=.024, t=1.49, p=.137) when time homeless was added to the model; paths from foster care experience to time homeless (β=.094, t=2.33, p<.020) and from time homeless to recent meth use (β=.920, t=143.28, p<.001) exhibited significant effects. There was a significant indirect effect of foster care experience on recent meth use mediated by time homeless (β=.086, t=2.34, p<.05).
Discussion: This study has important implications for interventions aimed at improving the lives of homeless youth. While prior literature has aimed interventions toward reducing substance use directly, this study indicates that efforts to reduce substance use should instead be aimed at securing stable housing for homeless former foster youth. Results indicated that foster care experience impacted recent methamphetamine use, only indirectly via time homeless. Although there was not full mediation, the direct effect between foster care and meth use is approaching 0 and non-significant in the path model. These findings add to the literature on substance use among both homeless young adults and former foster youth, suggesting the key to reduction of methamphetamine use may be in improving housing stability for this population.