High prevalence of exposure to the child welfare system among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting: Implications for policy and practice

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BMC Public Health, 14(1)

The long-term trajectories of children who leave government care are often fraught with social, economic, and emotional challenges, including substance misuse and street-involvement. This study aimed to provide an estimate of the prevalence of prior history of government care among street-involved youth through a data from the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), which is a survey of a prospective cohort of 937 street-involved youth who used illicit drugs in Vancouver, Canada. Baseline data for the ARYS were collected from 2005 to 2012 from youth who were aged 14-26 and used drugs such as crack, cocaine, heroin, or crystal methamphetamine in the previous 30 days. In the ARYS, a history of being in government care was defined as an affirmative response to the question: “As a child, did you ever live in an orphanage, a foster home, a group home, as a ward of the state, or away from your parents for a month or more (not including vacations)?” The study found that 49% of street-involved youth had a history of government care. Typically, street involved youth who were more likely to report histories of government care were: Aboriginal,  started using drugs before age 15, did not complete high school, experienced parental substance abuse, had experienced sexual or physical abuse, and were Hepatitis C positive . Together, the findings show that when youth age out of government care, they may be susceptible to illicit drug use and street-involvement. The authors call for early interventions for youth currently in government care to ensure that youth are supported in finishing high school, accessing addiction treatments, and transitioning out of government care to independence.

Research Areas

Province / Territory
Canadian CW research
Journal article