Adolescent maltreatment in the child welfare system and developmental patterns of sexual risk behaviors

Child Maltreat. 2015 Feb;20(1):50-60. doi: 10.1177/1077559514548701. Epub 2014 Aug 25.


In this longitudinal study, we tested whether adolescent maltreatment and out-of-home placement as a response to maltreatment altered developmental patterns of sexual risk behaviors in a nationally representative sample of youth involved in the child welfare system. Participants included adolescents aged 13 to 17 (M = 15.5, SD = 1.49) at baseline (n = 714), followed over 18 months. Computer-assisted interviews were used to collect self-reported sexual practices and experiences of physical and psychological abuse at both time points. Latent transition analyses were used to identify three patterns of sexual risk behaviors: abstainers, safe sex with multiple partners, and unsafe sex with multiple partners. Most adolescents transitioned to safer sexual behavior patterns over time. Adolescents exhibiting the riskiest sexual practices at baseline were most likely to report subsequent abuse and less likely to be placed into out-of-home care. Findings provide a more nuanced understanding of sexual risk among child welfare-involved adolescents and inform practices to promote positive transitions within the system.

Keywords: adolescent; child maltreatment; child welfare; longitudinal; sexual risk behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adolescent Development
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Welfare / psychology
  • Child Welfare / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data*