Abstract: Risk of Criminal Justice System Involvement during Early Adulthood Among Transition-Age Foster Youth: The Influence of Disabilities and Behavioral Health Problems (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Risk of Criminal Justice System Involvement during Early Adulthood Among Transition-Age Foster Youth: The Influence of Disabilities and Behavioral Health Problems

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 4:30 PM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Kune Park, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago
Mark Courtney, PhD, Samuel Deutsch Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose:  Studies on transition-age foster youth indicate that young people with disabilities are more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience poor outcomes, including criminal justice involvement (CJI) (Edwards, 2010; Mendes, 2013).  Additionally, individuals with behavioral health problems are overrepresented in the legal system compared to individuals in the general population (SAMHSA, 2015; Steadman, 2009). Despite the importance of these risk factors, little research has examined the extent to which disabilities and behavioral health problems predict CJI of young people in foster care. This study investigates the associations between disabilities/behavioral health needs and later CJI, controlling for youths’ background characteristics and time in extended foster care.

Methods:  This analysis uses data collected from 540 CalYOUTH participants who completed all three interview waves (ages, 17, 19, and 21).  The outcome variable, CJI, is a self-report measure collected at ages 19 and 21, which captures arrest or incarceration since last interview.  The main predictors (disability and behavioral health) and control variables were measured at age 17. Three measures were proxies for disability: ever in a special education classroom, ever received Social Security Disability insurance, and self-reported limitations in physical activities that lasted more than 12 months.  Behavioral health problems were assessed by the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview. A binary measure captured whether youth screened positive for one of ten common disorders: depression, mania, social phobia, PTSD, psychoticism, conduct disorder, opposite defiant disorder, ADHD, and alcohol use and substance use problems. Control variables include youths’ demographic characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation) and CJI prior to age 17.  Lastly, to account for time in extended foster care, months in care past the 18th birthday was calculated from administrative data. Binary logistic regression assessed associations between CJI and the predictors.  All analyses used weights to account for the survey design.

Results:  40% of youth had at least one disability at age 17 (32% were in special education, 7% received SSI, 6% had a physical limitation, and 5% had two or more).  Regression results found the estimated odds of CJI at age 19 were significantly higher for males than females (OR=2.2), African American youth than white youth (OR=2.9), and youth with previous CJI (OR=4.0 (all p <.05).  At age 21, having a behavior health disorder (OR=2.2), being male (OR=4.5), sexual minority status (OR=4.2), and previous CJI (OR=2.5) increased the estimated odds of CJI (p <.001), while months in care after age 18 (OR=0.97, p <.01) reduced the estimated odds.

Conclusions and Implications:  This study did not find an association between disability and risk of CJI.  However, the association between behavioral health disorders and CJI at age 21 calls for collaboration between service systems and comprehensive service delivery to meet the complex needs of care leavers.  Transitions from child to adult mental health systems are often disrupted by lack of collaboration across systems and service providers.  The association between time in extended care and reduced odds of CJI suggest that institutional bonds youth have may act protectively against these disruptions during a critical developmental period.