African American males in foster care and the risk of delinquency: the value of social bonds and permanence

Child Welfare. 2008;87(1):115-40.


Juvenile delinquency remains a significant problem for child welfare systems throughout the United States. Victims of child abuse and neglect are more likely relative to children in the general population to engage in delinquency (Ryan & Testa, 2005; Widom, 1989). Although the magnitude of this relationship is not fully understood (Zingraff, Leiter, Myers, & Johnsen, 1993), the risk of delinquency is particularly high for African American males, adolescents, and children in substitute care settings. Unfortunately little is known about the factors that connect the experiences of maltreatment and delinquency. This lack of knowledge makes it nearly impossible to decrease the risk of delinquency for children in foster care. To improve the understanding of juvenile delinquency in the child welfare system, the current study tests aspects of social control theory within the context of foster care. We focus specifically on the effects of foster parent-foster child attachment, commitment, and permanence. The results indicate that strong levels of attachment decrease the risk of delinquency for youth in foster care. Involvement with religious organizations also decreases the risk of delinquency. In contrast, perceptions of placement instability, placement with relatives, and school suspensions are associated with an increased risk of delinquency.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data*
  • Foster Home Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior*