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Alcohol and Drug Use among Alumni of Foster Care: Decreasing Dependency Through Improvement of Foster Care Experiences

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The Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study examined the effects of family foster care on adult substance dependencies. The study focused on young adults (N = 479) who were served by a private (Casey Family Programs) or public foster care agency in Washington and Oregon states. This paper describes (1) prevalence rates of alcohol dependence and drug dependence, (2) the relation between risk factors and experiences in foster care and adult substance dependencies, and (3) statistical simulations showing how adult substance dependency rates may be reduced through improvement of the foster care experience. The rate of alcohol dependence within the past 12 months (3.6%) among alumni was not significantly different from that of the general population; the rate of drug dependence within the past 12 months (8.0%) was significantly higher among alumni. Optimization of foster care experiences (i.e., improving care) was associated with significant reductions in the estimated prevalence of these two dependencies.

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Special thanks to the staff members and agency collaborators of the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study for their efforts in making this paper possible. We especially appreciate the alumni of foster care who helped design the study, shared their stories, and interpreted the findings; the Casey, Oregon state, and Washington state staff who helped us locate alumni; the Survey Research Center study leaders and interviewers at the University of Michigan who assisted us with the study; and Ronald C. Kessler and staff at Harvard University Medical School for assistance with data analyses.

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Correspondence to Catherine Roller White MA.

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White, C.R., O’Brien, K., White, J. et al. Alcohol and Drug Use among Alumni of Foster Care: Decreasing Dependency Through Improvement of Foster Care Experiences. J Behav Health Serv Res 35, 419–434 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11414-007-9075-1

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  • alcohol use
  • drug use
  • substance use
  • foster care
  • prevention
  • protective factors
  • young adults