development are at elevated risk for detrimental behaviors and adverse outcomes such as
substance use and sexual risk taking. Linkages between sexual risk behaviors and abuse and neglect
among youth in out-of- home care have also been found, but most of these studies have not considered the impact of pubertal timing. This study examined high-risk sexual behavior and pubertal development
among adolescents in out-of- home care.
Methods: Participants were primarily African American youth in out-of- home care aged 14-21 (n = 270) enrolled in a sexual reproductive health intervention. Survey questions were similar to items found on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, including items on condom and contraception use; number of lifetime sexual partners; pubertal development; adolescent pregnancy; and sexually transmitted disease history.
Results: Odds ratios for early pubertal development and risk behaviors were calculated for each gender
using logistic regression analysis. The majority of the girls (59.3%) and a substantial number of boys
(37.2%) reported early pubertal development. Youth reported an early mean age at first intercourse and a high rate of pregnancy. Most reported an extremely unreliable use of contraception – 98.3% sex without a condom and 59.9% sex without any birth control in the past three months. There was a differential in the odds of engaging in sexual risk behaviors between early and late developers. Adolescent sexual risk behavior was strongly linked to pubertal development, especially for girls the sample.
Conclusions and Implications: Currently, it is not possible to alter biological pubertal development to
prevent negative health behaviors and outcomes. That is why it is critical to identify how modifiable
factors from the family and peer contexts to child welfare policy, can be influenced in order to improve
the health and wellbeing of early developing adolescents, especially those in out-of- home care.