Behavioral health and legal system involvement among transition-age youth in foster care: a longitudinal analysis of youth in California

Keunhye Park, Michelle R. Munson, Mark E. Courtney, Kierra Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Research shows that young people in foster care experience high levels of behavioral health problems that may lead to life obstacles, including legal system involvement (LSI) during the transition to adulthood. However, few longitudinal studies have examined LSI among foster youth from a behavioral health perspective during the transition to adulthood. To understand adolescent behavioral health conditions associated with adult LSI, we used longitudinal survey data of young people in foster care (n = 540) to compare the prevalence of different behavioral health disorders (age 17) between youth who later reported LSI and those who did not (ages 19–21). We also examined associations between adolescent behavioral health disorders and adult LSI, accounting for other covariates. We find that compared to those who did not, youth who reported later LSI in early adulthood had significantly higher rates of four behavioral health disorders at age 17: alcohol use, drug use, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. Regression results showed drug use disorder at age 17 to be a particularly strong predictor of later LSI after accounting for other covariates. Many individuals experience various risk factors for LSI, including behavioral health needs. We discuss implications for practice, policy, and research in the child welfare context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Public Child Welfare
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Keywords

  • Behavioral health
  • child welfare
  • foster care
  • legal system involvement
  • transition to adulthood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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