Juvenile Delinquency in Foster Care

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        The current study examines juvenile delinquency in correlation to foster care. This includes focusing on the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and other placement agencies. The study looks at how foster care impacts and how it can influence a child to turn into a juvenile delinquent.  The research also looks at the child's previous situation to have a better understanding of the existing factors which can also be a major influence over the child before they are placed in state care. The research included a sample of 4 participants who were interviewed, all ranging on different sides and perspectives of the foster care system. The most constant predictors of juvenile delinquency in correlation to foster care was placement instability, age, and behavior, which existed through the child's involvement in foster care.


        Nearly 428,000 children are currently in the foster care system, which means a child enters foster care in the United States every 2 minutes (Foster Care- Children's Rights 2018). A "juvenile" is defined as a person who has not attained his/her eighteenth birthday, and "juvenile delinquency" is the violation of a law of the United States committed by a person prior to his/her eighteenth birthday which would have been a crime if committed by an adult (US- Department of Justice 2018). Children who go into foster care are coming from a trauma; experiencing child maltreatment which is all forms of child abuse and neglect, as well as poverty and abandonment. Once a child enters foster care, they are children of the state, mandated to have services like therapy as well as other services based on what they need to help them recover. Child Protective Services (CPS) and DCF lack the necessary help for these children due to limited resources, and help. As a result, these children are desperate for a life of stability, attachment, and opportunity. Due to children not getting the proper rehabilitation and services they need after they enter care under the state, many of the children suffer emotionally and express themselves through negative behaviors and disruptions which leads to placement instability. Often, DCF and other placement agencies focus so much on trying to find the child a permanent home, they disregard the child's needs and do not give them the proper treatment they need in order to rehabilitate. With the large number of children in foster care, its important to understand the flaws of the system and understand how and why so many children turn to delinquency. When foster children do not get the necessary help they need, they respond to these life changing experiences with anger and frustration, a buildup of emotions that leave the foster family clueless on how to deal with them. The older the child is, they lack attachment to people and things, leaving them living a life without meaning and lack of care and respect for themselves. As these children age out of foster care, they often do not have the necessary abilities to integrate successfully into society. By finding a better understanding of what children experience while in foster care, we can better assess quality programs and services which can alleviate the large number of children who end up being juvenile delinquents and terminate this reoccurring cycle in society. Through this research we are looking at what causes foster care children to become juvenile delinquents.

Literature Review

        Previous research has shown how juveniles turn to delinquency. A child's previous environment and the event which lead them to enter foster care has a large influence on a child and the future they have. Studies have also shown that behavior is a result from improper services for the child to overcome the trauma they previously experienced. Behavior also derived from lack of attachment to biological family, or foster care parents and families. This results in the child's negative behavior. Age and placement are also studied and has found that the longer a child is in foster care, the more likely they turn to delinquency. The older a child is in foster care, the more likely they turn to delinquency and how aging out of foster care also has a strong correspondence to delinquency and involvement with the criminal justice system.

Maltreatment and Placement Stability

Baskin and Sommers (2010) determined that child maltreatment and placement stability have a strong correlation to delinquency as well as age at placement. Their study included 371, group homes, 446 foster families and 418 family maintenance placements with an arbitrary sample from age birth to 12 years old for the placement groups. Youth were older during placement and youth with at least one placement change had more of a chance to be arrested for crimes and charged than younger youth who had no placement change. In terms of maltreatment, those who were sexually abused were less likely to be arrested than those who suffered emotional abuse, exploitation, and neglect. White youths were also more likely to be arrested than African American youths. Wulczyn, Kogan, and Harden (2002) looked at placement stability and movement trajectories. They found placement instability had negatively impacted children in their developmental milestones, attachment to caregivers, and had behavioral issues. They also found that impacts of move are influenced by child development. Looking at 16,170 children in foster care and 8,028,487 the total number of placement days. On average the children spent about 497 days in care. Movement rates were higher for older children, from ages 11-13.

Behavior and Delinquency

        Orme and Buehler (2001) administered a review on foster family characteristics and behavioral and emotional problems of foster children. They focused on two dimensions. The first identifies if and how characteristics of foster families influence the well- being of foster children in their care. The second estimated the rate of foster families with problems in various areas of socialization, like quality of parenting, home environments, and general family functioning interplays between child's behavior and outside support. Because of limited longitudinal research, they were only able to identify a link between parents and family characteristics and behavioral and emotional problems of foster children. It was also clear through the review that a proportion of approved foster parents and families (15-20%) have problems in their home environment, family functioning, and parenting. The review did include however, that behavioral and emotional problems of foster children are influenced by family origin and genetics. Characteristics of the foster care system have pressure on a child's well-being like the shortage in services, which can trigger emotional and behavioral problems. A study by Shpiegal, Lister, and Isralowitz (2016) looked at relationships between delinquency and substance use among adolescents emancipating from foster care. They looked at data from multi-site evaluations of foster youth programs for longitudinal associations between delinquency and substance use from ages 17 to 18 years old. Around 25,000 youth emancipate themselves from foster care in the United States per year. The results revealed that rates of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana at age 17 were not predictive of delinquency at age 18. There was a trend of youth with sexual abuse who engaged in more delinquent behavior at age 18. Looking at substance use, at age 17, 20% used tobacco, 23% alcohol, 15% marijuana. At age 18, 26% used tobacco, 33% alcohol, and 19% marijuana. In a study on delinquency and crime prevention, Osei, Gorey, and Jozefowicz (2015) compared treatment in foster care and group care. They focused on treatment foster care (TFC) and group care (GC) which are the most prevalent and promising options for traumatized at risk youth. The research aim is about relative effectiveness of TFC and GC for youth risk in movement from the child welfare system to the criminal justice system. The authors searched databases from January of 1990-January of 2015, taking 7 studies with sampled youth ages 10-18. They found support for their exploratory hypothesis that smaller and better resourced group homes have greater preventative impacts than bigger and less resourced homes. The updated meta-analysis suggested that smaller homes prevented ?…“ of the delinquent or criminal acts than large group homes.

Child Maltreatment

 Platt and Stephanie (2016) conducted a study on physical abuse and/or neglect more predictive of delinquent behavior in a high-risk population. The results showed a correlation between delinquency and gender with boys having higher levels of delinquency than girls. Also, physical abuse resulted in higher levels of aggressive behavior outcomes when compared to experiences of neglect. Platt and Stephanie used longitudinal data sets from Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN). They examined data on children 4 to 18 years old, sampling 1,354 youth and families every 2 years. The study involved all children from CPS and who have reported maltreatment before the age of 5. Laurier, H©lie, Pineau-Villeneuve, Royer (2016) conducted a study on maltreatment in correlation to delinquency involving service trajectories after the intervention of CPS. Their aim was to examine the incidence of youth criminal justice entry after CPS. The study included 53% boys, and 47% girls. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) is for ages 2-17 years who violate criminal code or committed other federal crimes. CPS agencies are responsible for enforcing Youth Protection Act and offering services to children and families as well as to young officials followed under YCJA. The reports from YCJA showed that first offenses occurred 461 days after the first case. 73.7% committed at least two offenses while 3.6% committed more than 10 offenses. The study concluded that the biggest part of delinquency is not CPS characteristics but the behavioral problems. It partly confirmed the hypothesis that maltreatment leads to delinquency and that repeated maltreatment predisposes youth to involvement in YCJA.

Length in Foster Care

Schofield and Beek (2005) performed research on the risk and resilience in long term foster care. They focused on long term foster care and meeting the developmental needs of children in foster care, thus reducing the impact of psychosocial risks and promoting resilience for the shift of childhood into adult life. The researchers conducted a longitudinal study of children in long term foster care, the objective being to explore the needs of children and how they could be met by long term foster families. The study was conducted into two parts, Phase One and Phase Two. Phase one was between 1997-1999, consisting of 58 children between ages 4-11.  They used a combination of questionnaires, and in-depth interviews with the foster families, children, birth families and social workers. Phase 2 was done between 2001-2002 which followed up with the 52 children from Phase 1. They then based the children into three different categories: good progress, uncertain progress and downward spiral. The results showed that the good progress was defined as no risk factors being present. This was in terms of their characteristics, histories, and patterns of behavior in relation to the levels of difficulty with their foster families, to the outside world, and in school. In Phase 2, looking at the 3 categories, the ones who were considered good progress had good placements and were adapting. The uncertainty and the downward spiral were in some stable homes, but a lot of the children had relations with rejection from placements. Many of the children were having difficulties adapting to flexibility and adaptation to new situations as well as developmental challenges. In these cases, it was lack of professional support which implemented risk factors for placement. Foster family environments concerned over strong feelings of disappointment, hurt and anger. This increased their sense of isolation and helplessness. One important detail was age factor, for older members it was difficult with rapid changes in their teenage years and increased expectations and competence in the outside world that challenged them. The downward spiral group consisted of seven children that had little emotional a practical security. They moved frequently with unsatisfactory, temporary placements. Behavioral issues raised concern as they got involved with extreme violence, self-harm, and cruelty to animals.

The overall articles all concentrated on many reoccurring themes when looking at Foster Care and Juvenile Delinquency. Placement stability influences the behaviors of children as we can see in the articles by Baskin and Sommers (2010) and in the article by Wulczyn, Kogan, and Harden (2002). Maltreatment was a large theme in the articles by Laurier, Helie, and Pineau (2015) and Platt and Stephanie (2016).  All the articles feature the behavior of children as well as length in Foster care. The number of children who turn to delinquency is so large because through the process of leaving their homes or previous environments and moving into foster care, group care,

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Juvenile Delinquency In Foster Care. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved December 4, 2023 , from

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