A national study of risk and protective factors for substance use among youth in the child welfare systemedit
While child welfare services are intended, in part, to diminish maltreatment’s negative impact on adolescents’ development, there is evidence that receiving child welfare services affects adolescents’ substance use adversely. The literature on the extent and correlates of this problem is still emerging. The present study aims to fill part of this gap by examining the association between baseline psychosocial risk and protective factors on engagement in substance use behavior over a period of 36 months for child welfare involved youth. It further compares substance use behavior between youth placed in out-of-home care and those who remained with their biological families. Data come from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a national probability study of children and adolescents undergoing investigation for abuse or neglect. The sample for this analysis was restricted to 827 youth who were 11 years or older at baseline data collection. Key findings include a high rate of social substance use (47.7%) and illicit substance use (17.4%). There was a limited role of protective factors in mitigating risk behavior for social substance use (caregiver connectedness; OR=0.51, p<0.05). Avoiding foster care placement was a protective factor for illicit substance use (OR=0.43, p<0.05). Delinquency was a risk factor associated with both social substance use (OR=1.06, p<0.01) and hard substance use (OR=1.10, p<0.001). Given the high prevalence of substance use among child welfare involved youth, prevention efforts for this population require a better understanding of biological, psychological, and social protective factors. The child welfare system is an untapped resource that has the potential to be a gateway to and a platform for substance abuse prevention services that should be incorporated into child welfare safety and permanency interventions.