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Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2011 Jul;81(3):420-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2011.01110.x.

Patterns of mental health, substance abuse, and justice system involvement among youth aging out of child welfare.

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School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.


Although research on youth aging out of the child welfare system has increased, there has been limited focus on how their experiences vary. In particular, there is a need to examine patterns in the involvement of these youth in other systems, which indicate constellations of challenges facing these young people as they transition out of care and into adulthood. Using administrative data from a large birth cohort of individuals born between 1985 and 1994 whose families have been involved in the child welfare system, this article presents an analysis of the mental health, substance abuse, juvenile justice, and criminal justice system involvement of youth who have aged out of child welfare. Using a 2-step cluster analysis, we identify 5 subgroups of youth. Two of these groups, accounting for almost half of the youth, have little other system involvement and have child welfare care careers of relative stability. The other 3 groups, consisting of just over half of the youth, have much more extensive other system involvement, as well as care careers marked by instability and a greater proportion of time spent in congregate care.

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