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ID: 125

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Research

Topics: Children, Young People and Drug Use; Prisons and Detention

Presenting author: Brittany Barker

Presenting author biography:

Brittany is a doctoral student in interdisciplinary studies at University of British Columbia and a researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. She primarily works with street-involved youth who use drugs and have been in government care, operating between the spheres of public health and public policy.

From Placement to Prison: Aging-out of the Child Welfare System and Incarceration among People who use Drugs in Vancouver, Canada

Brittany Barker, Jeannie Shoveller, Ekaterina Novosa, Thomas Kerr, Kora DeBeck

Background: Exposure to the child welfare system (CWS) is associated with an array of harms throughout life, including, elevated rates of substance use, homelessness and incarceration. However, less is known about the unique trajectories of those who age-out of the CWS, defined as experiencing an abrupt termination in financial and emotional support upon turning the legal age of majority. This study sought to longitudinally examine the relationship between aging-out of the CWS and subsequent incarceration among people who use illicit drugs (PWUD).

Methodology: Between December 2005 and May 2015, data were derived from two prospective cohorts of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada. Over the study period, 411 PWUD with a history of being in the CWS were seen and completed a study visit; of whom, 255 (62.0%) were female and the median age was 36.7 (IQR: 27.6–49.5). Multivariable linear regression analysis was employed to examine the relationship between aging-out of the CWS and increasing number of incarceration events, adjusting for confounders.

Results: Among PWUD with a history of being in the CWS, 160 (39%) reported aging-out of the CWS and 38 (9.25%) reported being recently incarcerated at some point over the study period with a median number of 2 incarcerations (IQR: 1-4). Despite adjusting for numerous confounders, including drug use patterns, homelessness, and year of study recruitment, aging-out of the CWS was significantly and positively associated with increasing number of incarceration events (adjusted odds ratio=1.20; 95% confidence interval: 1.04-1.38).

Conclusions: Aging-out of the CWS was highly prevalent among our sample of PWUD. Our findings suggest that aging-out is an important risk factor for subsequent incarceration. This further supports the need to evaluate innovative measures, such as extending care past the age of emancipation, to reduce harms associated with aging-out of the CWS and subsequent involvement with the criminal justice system.