Academic journal article Social Work Research

Trajectories of Depression Symptoms among Older Youths Exiting Foster Care

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Trajectories of Depression Symptoms among Older Youths Exiting Foster Care

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the trajectories of depressive symptoms as older youths from the foster care system mature while also examining the correlates of these trajectories. Data came from a longitudinal study of 404 youths from the foster care system in Missouri, who were interviewed nine times between their 17th and 19th birthdays. Depression was assessed with the Depression Outcomes Module and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for DSM-IV Data best fit a model of three trajectory classes, describing young people (1) maintaining low levels of depressive symptoms (never depressed class, 78%), (2) with increasing symptoms (increasing class, 6%), and (3) with decreasing symptoms (decreasing class, 15%). The increasing depression group was mostly male youths who were working or in school; the decreasing class was mostly highly maltreated female youths exiting the foster care system from residential care, with low levels of employment, and in school. Implications for social work practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: depression; foster care; trajectories; transition


Foster youths are at increased risk of depression due to a variety of factors, including inherited vulnerability, child maltreatment, and the potential insults of the foster care system itself, including multiple moves and repeated relationship losses (Kaufman, 1991; McMillen et al., 2005). The over 26,000 young people who "age out" of the U.S. foster care system each year (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008), however, are thought to be at even greater risk for depression when they leave care. Some reasons for this may be the density of life transitions they experience, including the loss of mental health services, and a potential realization that their skills and resources are not adequate to meet the demands of living life more independently. The purpose of this study was to understand the nature of depressive symptoms among older youths transitioning from one mid-western state's foster care system. This was achieved through examination of the rates of past-year depression at ages 17 and 19, depressive symptom trajectories, the correlates of trajectory classes, and the relationships between trajectory class membership and functional outcomes. Social work plays a leading role in serving older youths exiting foster care, and this study informs the field on how their depressive symptoms present during the transition to adulthood.


Clinical Course of Depression during the Transition Years

Older adolescence is often filled with dense transitions in education, living situation, employment, and relationships (Rindfuss, 1991). Scholars have suggested that this can be a time when "things come undone" for vulnerable youths, especially if the resources and supports necessary to make the transition to adulthood are not available (Osgood, Foster, Flanagan, & Ruth, 2005). Epidemiological research has revealed high prevalence rates of depressive disorders during the transition years, roughly ages 16 to 25 (Giaconia et al., 1994; Kessler et al., 1994; Newman et al., 1996). Prevalence rates for depression steadily increase with age, peaking during adolescence and into adulthood (Burke, Burke, Regier, & Rae, 1990). Although depression is treatable, scores of youths with depression do not seek treatment (Keller, Lavori, Beardslee, Wunder, & Ryan, 1991), and many with mental disorders often drop out of services prematurely (Kazdin, 1996). This magnifies concerns, given that depression among adolescents has been associated with substance use, academic underachievement, unemployment, and teenage pregnancy (Diego, Field, & Sanders, 2003; Fergusson &Woodward, 2002; Lewinsohn, Rohde, Seeley, Klein, & Gotlib, 2003). Increasing knowledge about depression during the transition years for our most vulnerable citizens is critical to understanding how to best target both depression prevention and management efforts. …

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