Methods: Samples of pooled middle and high school students (N = 2,365) and of high school students only (N = 1,068) were drawn from the 2015 Los Angeles Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Child welfare system involvement was coded into three mutually exclusive categories: foster care, child welfare involvement without foster care, and no child welfare involvement. Other demographic measures included age, sex, race, and ethnicity. Outcomes were in-person sexual behaviors (recent/lifetime/oral/anal/unsafe sex, multiple partners), online sexual behaviors (sent/received sext, sexting because of pressure, finding or having sex with partner from Internet or an app), and sexual victimization (forced sex, dating physical violence/sexual assault). Logistic regression analyses determined variability in sexual behaviors and victimization based on child welfare system involvement, using no child welfare involvement as the reference category. Path analysis associated online sexual risk behaviors with in-person sexual risk behaviors and victimization.
Results: Foster care was associated with higher odds of all in-person and online sexual behaviors. Odds ratios ranged from 1.9 (95% CI: 1.2, 3.0) for ever receiving a sext to 9.8 for both sending a sext because of pressure (95% CI: 5.6, 17.0) and having sex with someone from online (95% CI: 4.2, 22.9). Foster care placement was associated with forced sex (OR = 3.1, 95% CI: 1.5, 6.1) and physical dating violence (OR = 3.6, 95% CI: 1.3, 9.5). Child welfare system involvement without foster care was positively associated with sexual risk outcomes, but less consistently. Path analysis found that online sexual behaviors were associated with in person sexual risk and victimization. Specifically, sexting was associated with multiple sexual partners (OR = 2.08, 95% CI: 1.33, 3.26) and having sex without a condom (OR = 1.52, 95% CI: 1.01, 2.30). Ever receiving a sext was associated with multiple sexual partners (OR = 4.34, 95% CI: 2.81, 6.79), having sex without a condom (OR = 2.24, 95% CI: 1.54, 3.26), forced sex (OR = 2.11, 95% CI: 1.19, 3.71), and dating sexual assault (OR = 2.49, p = .040). Sending an electronic sex image out of pressure was associated with multiple sexual partners (OR = 2.01, 95% CI: 1.37, 2.77) and forced sex (OR = 1.91, 95% CI: 1.14, 3.23). Finding a sexual partner online was associated with physical dating violence (OR = 4.18, 95% CI: 1.62, 10.75) and dating sexual assault (OR = 4.82, 95% CI: 2.15, 10.80).
Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate a higher sexual risk among adolescents who have experienced foster care placement and intermediary, albeit significant, levels of risk for adolescents with child welfare system involvement without foster care placement. Additionally, results suggest that sexting and other online sexual risk behaviors are associated with higher in-person sexual risk and victimization. Targeted interventions and preventions are needed to prevent online and offline sexual risks and victimization among adolescents with child welfare system involvement.