Child Welfare and the Transition to Adulthood: Investigating Placement Status and Subsequent Arrests

J Youth Adolesc. 2016 Jan;45(1):172-82. doi: 10.1007/s10964-015-0305-1. Epub 2015 May 27.


Studies of the transition to adulthood in child welfare focus almost exclusively on youth in foster care. Yet, research indicates that maltreated children who remain in the home may display similar risks as compared with their peers in formal foster care settings. Utilizing administrative data from child welfare, juvenile justice and adult corrections, the current study fills a gap in the literature by analyzing justice outcomes for older adolescents involved with the child welfare system regardless of their placement status. We focus on both intact family cases and formal foster care placements. The diverse sample (11% Hispanic, 8% African American, 6% Native American, 9% multi-racial, 56% female) included open child welfare cases involving 17 year olds (n = 9874). Twenty-nine percent of adolescents were associated with a long term out of home placement and 62% were associated with an intact family case. Event history models were developed to estimate the risk of subsequent offending. Adolescents associated with long term foster care placement were significantly less likely to experience a subsequent arrest as compared with adolescents associated with a long term intact family case. Males, African Americans and adolescents associated with neglect were also more likely to experience a subsequent arrest. Limited focus on the intact family population in child welfare represents a lost opportunity to support critical developmental gains and facilitate a smooth transition to adulthood.

Keywords: Adolescents; Child welfare; Transition to adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • African Americans
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Welfare* / ethnology
  • Female
  • Foster Home Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / ethnology
  • Juvenile Delinquency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Law Enforcement
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult