New study shows promising long-term outcomes for mentoring program for children in foster care

Taussig, H. N., Dmitrieva, J., Garrido, E. F., Cooley, J. L., & Crites, E. (2021). Fostering Healthy Futures Preventive Intervention for Children in Foster Care: Long-term Delinquency Outcomes from a Randomized Controlled Trial. Prevention Science

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although maltreated foster care children have a high risk of being involved in delinquency and the juvenile justice system, not many studies have examined the long-term effects of delinquency.  
  • This study explores the long-term effects of the Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a thirty-week mentoring & skills group preventive intervention for preadolescent maltreated youth in foster care. 
  • Self-reported data revealed that the intervention group experienced 30–82% less total and non-violent delinquency than the control group between the ages 14 and 18. 
  • Findings also indicated that court charges for total and violent delinquency in mid-adolescence were 15–30% lower for the intervention group. 
  • Preadolescent mentoring and skills training programs can help lower delinquency and justice involvement levels among high-risk youth.  

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Child maltreatment and foster care placement are strong risk factors for delinquency and juvenile justice involvement, and there is substantial crossover between youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. This study examines the long-term impact of the Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program, a 30-week mentoring and skills group preventive intervention for preadolescent maltreated children in foster care. Participants included 426 children recently placed in out-of-home care who were randomized to intervention or control conditions. Outcomes included both self-reported delinquency, measured at multiple time points between 6 months and 12 years post-intervention, as well as court records of delinquency charges, which were measured for 7 consecutive years beginning 3 months after the intervention began. Results from multilevel models indicated that the intervention group self-reported 30–82% less total and non-violent delinquency than the control group between ages 14 and 18. Court charges for total and violent delinquency in mid-adolescence were also 15–30% lower for the intervention group. These findings indicate that a mentoring and skills training program in preadolescence can reduce delinquency and justice involvement for children who are at high risk for these outcomes.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study sought to examine whether the Fostering Healthy Futures (FHF) program had an impact on the longitudinal course of delinquency for children who had been in foster care during preadolescence. Despite the heterogeneity of their life experiences and the multitude of factors that contribute to engagement in delinquency, results suggest that the FHF program weakened the pipeline that is too often found between child maltreatment and delinquency as well as between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The effects of the program were not immediate nor were they invariant across types of delinquency and measurement method. For self-reported total and non-violent delinquency, quadratic effects suggested that children in the intervention (relative to the control group) had a slower and lower rise in their delinquent behavior until the age of 14, which was followed by a much more precipitous drop until young adulthood. For court records of delinquency charges, there was a steady rise in both groups until the age of 16, but the control group had a higher linear rise, especially for violent delinquency. We hypothesize, based on prior studies, that the different trajectories are due to youth engaging in and endorsing more delinquent behaviors prior to coming to the attention of the authorities (Bosick, 2009; Farrington et al., 2007). The different impact of the intervention on non-violent and violent outcomes for the two different measures of delinquency is difficult to understand, although there was not 1:1 item correspondence between the measures. Other studies have found differences by informant and subtype of delinquency, most without clear explanation (Cernkovich et al, 1985; Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2010; Cuervo et al., 2018; Malvaso et al., 2018; Mersky et al., 2012; van der Stouwe et al., 2020). Certainly, this is an important area for further investigation. Given the strengths and limitations of both types of data collection, the positive findings in the current study across both methods of data collection for total delinquency are encouraging. Other strengths of the study include the fact that full intent-to-treat analyses were conducted, there was no differential attrition across groups, and the models included baseline delinquency and covariates that differed between groups at baseline.

Although it is difficult to compare effects sizes in the current study to those of studies which have not employed multiple time points, the small to medium size of the effects replicates what has been found across systematic reviews and meta-analyses of programs intended to reduce delinquent behavior and in evaluations of programs that utilize skills training and mentoring as core intervention components (Beelmann & Lösel, 2020; Dubois et al., 2011; Farrington et al., 2017; Raposa et al., 2019; Sandler et al., 2014). Indeed, it may be that the combination of these preventive intervention components and high rates of program fidelity enabled the FHF program to evidence this impact on delinquency (Christensen et al., 2020; Taheri & Welsh, 2016). It is rare in studies with high-risk and highly mobile populations to achieve such high rates of program engagement and completion. For example, in a review of mentoring programs for children of incarcerated parents, almost half of children did not participate for the expected duration. Even more concerning were the recruitment and retention rates; in one study, there was a 33% enrollment rate, a less than 80% completion rate for the baseline assessment, and a 50% retention rate for the post-assessment (Jarjoura, 2016). These patterns of attrition underscore the need to collect court record data in addition to self-reports of delinquency in order to model change over time as a function of intervention status.

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