Delinquency among adolescent females in foster care is an issue that has been analyzed and looked into for many years. From the years 2009-2013, adolescent youth ages 12-17 compromised about 38% of the 402,378 overall youth in foster care nationwide, with adolescent females accounting for 30% of juvenile arrests ( Lind & Sheldon, 2014, p. 2; Sarri, Stoffregen and Ryan, 2016, p. 191). Some of the risk factors that lead to delinquency amongst this population are substance use, mental health concerns, negative peer relationships, and socioeconomically disadvantaged families. (Agnew et al., 2010; Wong , Slotboom and Bijleveld,2010). Studies such as the Casey Field Office Mental Health Study have shown that adolescents living in foster care have shown high rates for conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, also known as ODD. (Kim & Leve 2011, p. 741)
Knowledge about delinquency among female adolescents in foster care is important for social work practice because it can inform one to be aware of the underlying issues that may lead to a child acting out. Although males are often characterized by the stigma of being delinquents, their female counterparts have also increased in their participation in such negative activities. 50% of all females arrested or involved in delinquent behaviors are arrested for larceny-theft, often shoplifting, and running away from home ( Lind & Sheldon, 2014, p.3).
This topic is important because social workers should be familiar with the different signs of neglect, and mental health issues that can lead one, particularly adolescent females, to act out in negative behaviors. Youth offenders often times come from broken families facing issues of poverty and substance abuse, or they may be already involved with child welfare services. Social workers should be familiar with these different types of adversities so that they can better assist delinquent youth with the proper rehabilitative measures. When working with the adolescent female population, it is also important for social workers to be aware of the difficulties that many of these young girls may face even in the foster care setting such as sexual abuse, maltreatment, and neglect. Such topics can be very sensitive for young girls and as social workers, it is important to be mindful of all possible triggers.
Delinquency is defined by the United States Department Of Justice as “the violation of a law of the United States committed by a person prior to his eighteenth birthday” ( United States DOJ, 2019). Merriam Webster notes adolescence as “ the period of life when a child develops into an adult” (Adolescence, 2019. Adolescence is best recognized as the teenage years of one’s developmental period. Therefore, adolescent delinquency is the criminal or illegal acts of unlawful doing committed by a person 18 or younger. The onset of early delinquent behaviors can lead to academic failure, substance use, risky sexual behaviors, and when unmonitored or controlled delinquency can lead to violent crimes and incarceration (Ryzin and Leve, 2012, p.588). Within the child welfare system or foster care, delinquency among adolescent females is prevalent in the forms of running away and participating in substance use.
Adolescent Females And Running Away From Placement
There are many factors that can influence an adolescent’s decision to run away such as, peer influences, their quality of care, and their relationships with the staff and their living situation. For many of these adolescents, running away becomes a means of coping with rules and problems faced within their placement, a response to bad news about their neighborhood or family, or the result of negative peer pressures (Lind & Sheldon, 2014, p.192; Sarri, Stoffregen and Ryan, 2016, p. 191). Research has also shown that adolescent females who are habitual runaways display significant levels of sexual and physical victimization. This repeated behavior can indicate that these young girls may be running away from pressures and victimizations like trafficking by adults in the sex industry such as prostitution, and drug use. Adolescent females are also forced to engage in these behaviors due to survival sex in exchange for food, shelter, protection, and money. Involvement in such activities at a young age can increase the development of mental health concerns as well (Agnew et al., 2010, p. 3; Lind & Sheldon, 2014, p.192 ; Sarri, Stoffregen and Ryan, 2016, p.191). Additional risk factors of running away from a child welfare placement also include the age of first removal to out-of-home care, increased number of placements, caretaker's inability to deal with the child's behavior, presence or diagnosis of a mental disorder, and homelessness (Lind & Sheldon, 2014, p.192 ; Sarri, Stoffregen, and Ryan, 2016, p191).
Kim and Leve (2011) stated in their report, “according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, adolescents within the child welfare system and foster care have been reported to have higher rates of illicit drug use and a higher need for substance abuse treatment “( Kim and Leve, 2011,p. 741). Substance use within the adolescent population is used as a means of self-medicating and coping with problems stemming from abuse such as depression and anxiety, PTSD, dissociating themselves from painful emotions, and to blur out painful or upsetting memories. Removal from their homes and the separation from parents and other family members can also have an impact on a child’s emotional and psychological self, which can also lead to an increased risk of substance abuse and mental health problems (Thompson and Auslander, 2011 p. 38). Young girls may also resort to drug and alcohol abuse to cope with abuse from a partner, to gain approval, or to fit in with their friends (Agnew et al., 2010, p. 8). Substance use and delinquent behaviors while in foster care have often been correlated to unhealthy risky behaviors and poor outcomes such as involvement in early sexual acts, unsafe sex practices including having multiple partners or having sex while intoxicated, early pregnancies and domestic violence when dating ( Kim and Leve, 2011, p. 741).
Protective Factors For Adolescent Females In Foster Care
Some research has proposed ideas that can help alleviate the risks of delinquency among adolescent females in foster care, also known as protective factors. Protective factors are the resources, supports, strengths and coping strategies within an individual, family, or community that can help eliminate stressors and risk factors. With regard to youth running away from their placement, a beneficial protective factor would be to provide attention to education and workforce development (Sarri, Stoffregen and Ryan, 2016, p. 196). Kim and Leve (2011) note that the MSS( Middle School Success) intervention has shown that the transition to middle school can provide a window of opportunity to reduce unwanted behaviors by increasing prosocial behaviors that can lead to reduced substance use and delinquent behaviors within adolescent girls in foster care (Kim and Leve, 2011, p. 748). This intervention was designed to prevent delinquency, substance use, and related problems amongst adolescent females in foster care during their transition to middle school. Another protective factor that helps reduce the risk of delinquency within this population is positive school attachments.”Crosnoe, Erickson, and Dornbusch (2002) found that bonding with teachers protected against delinquency, even when the girls had delinquent friends.”(Agnew et al., 2010, p. 10). Positive school attachment has also been shown through studies to be an effective mediator for achievement and delinquency (Bijleveld, Slotboom, and Wong,2010, p.279)
The purpose of this review is to identify the causes and risk factors that contribute and lead to delinquency among adolescent females within foster care placement. This topic is relevant and important to the social work profession because this population is often overlooked and ignored. When analyzing data about adolescents within the child welfare system, most of the information is predominately based on adolescent males. Females within this population are often oppressed and are outliers within the research. This information is important for social workers to know because it is their duty to advocate for those that are often misrepresented and oppressed. Knowledge of this specific population is also important for a social worker to know so that they can better assist young females within the child welfare system that may be facing issues of substance abuse and running away. Knowledge on this topic also teaches the social worker to be mindful of possible emotional, physical, and psychological triggers that may cause an adolescent female to engage in these delinquent behaviors outside of their visible risk factors. Research on this subject has shown that some of the causes for delinquency amongst this population include substance use, mental health concerns, negative peer influences, and belonging to socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Delinquency among adolescent females in foster care is most prevalent in the forms of running away from their placements and engaging with substance use. Delinquency among adolescent females in foster care is a topic that should be taken more seriously. More research should be conducted not only on the foster care population but more specifically on female adolescents within this population. Additional research should also be conducted on adolescent female delinquency as a whole, and not done as research to compare findings that have been focused primarily on the male population.” Such studies would have to include males as well as females, so that differences in methods can be disregarded as an explanation of any sex differences ( Bijleveld, Slotboom, and Wong,2010, p. 281) This additional information can be valuable to conducting such comparative research.