Substance use problems are highly prevalent among youth in foster care. Such problems in adolescence have long-lasting implications for subsequent adjustment throughout adulthood and even across generations. Although several programs have demonstrated positive results in reducing substance use in at-risk youth, few studies have systemically examined how such programs work for foster youth and whether they are effective for both genders. This study examined the efficacy of KEEP SAFE, a family-based and skill-focused program designed to prevent substance use and other related health risking behaviors among youth in foster care. We hypothesized that improving the caregiver–youth relationship would lead to later reductions in youths’ involvement with deviant peers, which subsequently would lead to less substance use, and that this mechanism would work comparably for both genders. A sample of 259 youth (154 girls, ages 11–17 years) in foster care and their caregivers participated in a randomized controlled trial and was followed for 18 months post-baseline. Results indicated that the intervention significantly reduced substance use in foster youth at 18 months post-baseline and that the intervention influenced substance use through two processes: youths’ improved quality of relationships with caregivers at 6 months post-baseline and fewer associations with deviant peers at 12 months post-baseline. This suggests that these two processes may be fruitful immediate targets in substance use prevention programs for foster youth. We also found little gender differences in direct and mediating effects of the intervention, suggesting KEEP SAFE may be effective for both genders in foster care.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health