Child maltreatment has numerous adverse effects upon the lives of child welfare-involved youth, and spirituality/religiosity is one way of buffering against unfavorable outcomes. Nonetheless, spirituality/religiosity has rarely been included in child welfare research, and very little is known about how maltreated youth experience religion or if they experience it at all. There is a need to better understand the effects of spirituality/religiosity on youth in the child welfare system to be able to support youth and minimize the effects of trauma. This study addressed the following research question: Among child welfare-involved youth, to what extent does spirituality/religiosity predict a wide variety of outcomes (substance use disorder, positive future expectations, delinquency, depression, loneliness, school disengagement, early sexual activity)?
The study utilized the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW-II), a longitudinal dataset containing information on a nationally representative sample of 5872 youth (Wave I: 2008-2009; Wave II: 18 months later) who have undergone a formal Child Protective Services investigation. The sample was restricted to adolescents age of 11-18 because of data unavailability for some of the variables in younger children (e.g., lack of substance use disorder data in younger children). Sampled youth resembled those in the larger NSCAW dataset. We used logistic regression to predict each of the seven outcomes in Wave II from spirituality/religiosity and control variables in Wave I. Separate analyses were used to assess: (1) importance in life of spirituality in Wave I; and (2) past-year attendance to church, synagogue, or other religious practice in Wave I.
Results demonstrated that 80% of child welfare-involved youth reported that spirituality was somewhat or very important to them, and 55% reported attending a place of worship at least once or twice per month, although the latter did not predict any of the outcomes. Youth who reported that spirituality was very important in Wave I were 53% less likely (OR=.47, CI=.24-.90, p<.05) to have a substance use disorder in Wave II than youth who reported that it was not important or only a little important. In addition, youth who reported that spirituality was very important in Wave I were 2.27 times as likely (CI=1.11-4.65, p<.05) to have positive future expectations in Wave II (e.g., graduate from high school; get a good job).
Conclusions and Implications:
After assessing levels of spirituality and desire to grow accordingly, child welfare workers and other professionals or parents (foster or biological) can suggest use of resources in the community that foster spiritual development (without infringing on separation of church and state), and placements can be made that meet any spiritual needs that may exist among maltreated adolescents. Future studies could examine quality of life as a spirituality-based outcome among child welfare-involved adolescents, physical health, or mental health problems other than depression (e.g., anxiety, eating disorder), for these outcomes have been studied in adolescents more generally. Longer follow-up times could assess the extent to which the relationship between spirituality/religiosity and outcomes has continuity into adulthood.