This study examined criminal behavior and criminal-justice-system involvement of youth making the transition from out-of-home care to independent adulthood, with attention to the influence of youths' experiences in the child welfare system.
The study found that offending patterns among youth aging out of foster care were similar to those of youth of the same age in the general population, i.e., offending peaked during late adolescence and declined into adulthood. Regarding whether out-of-home care experiences and social bonds predicted self-reported criminal behavior and the risk for arrest, the study found that foster care experiences predicted both violent and nonviolent self-reported crime. High numbers of foster-care placements contributed to increases in both violent and nonviolent crime. This was the case particularly for African-American youth involved in nonviolent crime. Also, the link between group care and violent crime was particularly strong for African-American youth. Youth who accessed independent living services had lower violent behavior, with reported violent crime decreasing by 2 percent for every independent living service received. There was only limited evidence that social bonds predicted violent or nonviolent behavior. Only about 20 percent of the foster youth became chronic offenders, with somewhat less than half being nonviolent chronic offenders. Foster youth were much more likely than their peers to be arrested as they made the transition to adulthood. There is clearly a need to ensure that older foster youth are provided with positive opportunities and direction as they begin their independent living, including employment and education. Study data came from the Midwest Study of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth (n=767), a longitudinal panel study that is part of a collaborative effort of the State public child welfare agencies in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin and several universities. 16 tables, 5 figures, and 93 references
Date Published: January 1, 2010