Abstract: Foster Youth and Justice System Involvement: Exploring Associations with Social Support, Self-Determination, Placement Stability, and Trauma Symptoms (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

191P Foster Youth and Justice System Involvement: Exploring Associations with Social Support, Self-Determination, Placement Stability, and Trauma Symptoms

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Chanel Ison, Undergraduate Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Jennifer Blakeslee, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background/Purpose: Criminal justice involvement in young adulthood is a particular concern for young people aging out of foster care, who are more likely than youth in the general population to have committed a range of offenses in the previous year (Cusick & Courtney, 2007), and to have been arrested (28%), convicted of a crime (12%), and detained or incarcerated (19%) (Courtney et al., 2005). Preventative approaches may help identify youth in foster care who are most likely to have criminal justice involvement in young adulthood, especially considering contextual risks, such as maltreatment histories and associated post-traumatic stress symptoms, foster placement instability, and limited access to social support and opportunities to demonstrate self-determination. This analysis explores whether these factors are associated with juvenile justice involvement prior to exiting foster care.

Methods: This analysis uses baseline data from a large-scale RCT of a structured mentoring intervention for foster youth, which recruited a population sample of 288 eligible youth (mean age=17.31, SD=.61) from a metropolitan area in the Pacific Northwest. The sample is 53% female, 19% Hispanic/Latino, and 46% White, 16% Black/African American, 19% multi-racial, and 19% other. 45% lived in a non-relative foster home, 23% were in a relative/kin home, and 32% were in more restricted placement settings. We explore whether justice system involvement—youth-reported “trouble with the law, including juvenile justice and detention” (15.5% of sample)—is associated with predictors of interest: the number of times using a range of alcohol/substances in the past month (mean=11.38, SD=28.10), validated measures including the Arc Self-Determination Scale, the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, and the Child Report of Post-traumatic Symptoms, and administrative data reflecting days in current placement (mean=673.78, median=288.50). We use nonparametric correlations to explore bivariate associations between all variables, and analysis of variance (ANOVA) to test for group mean differences in the predictors by the outcome variable, justice system involvement.  

Results: Juvenile justice involvement was associated with substance use (.214**), trauma symptoms (.136*), social support (-.125*), and days in current placement (-.157*). Compared to the group means for those who did not endorse the outcome variable, those with justice system involvement reported three times as much substance use (27.29 vs. 8.48, F=15.236, p=.000), higher trauma scores (19.55 vs. 15.68, F= 6.426, p=.012), and lower social support scores (62.72 vs. 67.79, F= 5.437, p=.021). Lastly, many of the predictors were associated, including self-determination with trauma symptoms (-.198**) and with social support (.414**), trauma symptoms with social support (-.186**), and days in current placement with substance use (-.221**).

Conclusion/ Implications: Overall, the findings confirm an association in a population of older foster youth between justice system involvement and indicators of substance use, trauma symptoms, and limited social support, which were additionally associated with lower levels of self-determination and placement stability. These findings inform ongoing intervention development with foster youth to increase social support, address trauma symptoms and substance use, and build self-determination skills in ways that may prevent ongoing involvement with the criminal justice system in young adulthood.