The Importance of the Caregiver and Adolescent Relationship for Mental Health Outcomes Among Youth in Foster Care
Youth in foster care represent a highly traumatized population. However, trauma research on this population has focused primarily on maltreatment rather than the full spectrum of trauma experiences identified within the DSM-IV. The current study aims to fill this gap by reporting the prevalence of exposure to specific types of traumatic events for a large sample of youth with foster care experience. The study also reports the likelihood of lifetime PTSD diagnoses associated with each specific type of trauma. Data are from a longitudinal panel study of 732 adolescents aged 17 and 18 who were in foster care. Lifetime trauma exposure and PTSD diagnosis were assessed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Statistical comparisons were made using logistic regressions. The majority of respondents had experienced at least one trauma in their lifetime. While overall trauma prevalence did not differ by gender, males were more likely to experience interpersonal violence and environmental trauma, while females were more likely to experience sexual trauma. Caucasian participants reported higher rates of trauma exposure than African-American participants did. The types of trauma associated with the highest probability of a lifetime PTSD diagnosis were rape, being tortured or a victim of terrorists, and molestation. Youth in foster care are a highly traumatized population and meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD at higher rates than general youth populations. The ongoing impact of trauma may be particularly problematic for these young people given their abrupt transition to independence.