Foster Care Youth More Likely to be Chronic Offenders: Study

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Children and youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to continue a pattern of chronic offending between adolescence and emerging adulthood than those not in care, according to a forthcoming study.

The Canadian study, to be published in the November-December issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice, found that children and youth in Canadian foster care began offending earlier, spent more time incarcerated, and committed offenses at a frequency that was 1.5 times greater than young people who did not experience foster care.

Children and Youth in Care (CYIC) averaged a significantly greater number of convictions for violent offenses than non-CYIC youths, said the study, conducted by Raymond R. Corrado, Evan C. McCuish, and Jennifer Yang of Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology in Vancouver.

By age 23, the total number of violent convictions incurred by CYIC youths represented about 24 percent of all convictions incurred.

More specifically, when compared to male non-CYIC, male CYIC were at a 2.55 higher odds of being in the chronic offending group. However, females in foster care were not associated with offending pattern.

The direct correlation between CYIC and chronic offending was found after controlling for other risk factors such as demographic characteristics, family problems, school behavior problems and negative self-identity.

Foster-care youth also spent more time incarcerated than peers who came from more traditional home environments.

They “may be more likely to be convicted of an offense, or once convicted, be given a greater number of conditions while on probation and thus more likely to be convicted of administrative offenses,” according to the researchers.

A common belief is that CYIC enter foster care because of their deviant behavior; however, the authors cited a 2015 United Kingdom study showing that only 5% of children had entered care due to their own behavior or disability, while 61% had entered due to abuse or neglect.

Secure placement and strong, long-lasting relationships with a foster parent can divert a child from criminal behavior, according to the British study. However, between 20% and 50% of foster care placements in England during 2015 were disrupted.

The Simon Fraser University report used data from the Incarcerated Serious and Violent Young Offender Study in the province of British Columbia, Canada, which has been ongoing since 1998. The data consists of one cohort interviewed between 1998 and 2003 as well as a second cohort interviewed between 2005 and 2011.

This current study focused on a sample of 364 participants—309 males and 55 females—who were followed into emerging adulthood, defined as between the ages of 18 and 23.

Offending was measured using the British Columbia Corrections’ computerized system, Corrections Network (CORNET). Criminal convictions were coded for the entire sample from ages 12 to 23. The average number of charges for this sample which resulted in convictions between those ages was 17.60.

According to the researchers, “early interventions specifically targeting the needs of CYIC in the transition to adulthood may be warranted, given their over-representation in the justice system and the associated financial and societal costs, due to their likelihood of continued chronic offending.”

A full copy of the report is available for purchase here.

Journalists can obtain a free copy by contacting TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie at Victoria@thecrimereport.org

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Brian Edsall. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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