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May 2018Vol. 19, No. 4Individual Strengths and Kinship Involvement Moderate Behavioral Risks

Youth involved in child welfare are more prone to risk behaviors (e.g., delinquency, thoughts of suicide, anger) than their noninvolved peers as a result of trauma experiences and the disruption brought on by having to leave their families. Although research has shown that individual strengths, such as optimism and being able to cope in difficult situations, protect against risk behaviors, there has been little focus on kinship involvement (i.e., extended family support) as a social strength that can reduce the effects and consequences of childhood trauma. The article, "Foster Care Children's Kinship Involvement and Behavioral Risks: A Longitudinal Study," discusses a study that looked into individual strengths and kinship involvement as moderators between trauma experiences and risk behaviors.

The study participants included 336 youth, aged 3-13, who entered the Illinois child welfare system between 2011 and 2014. Data for the study were collected as part of the Recruitment and Kin Connections Project, which worked in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to expand upon traditional child welfare practices by identifying and engaging relatives, fictive kin, and community supports for youth entering care. The study period for each child began with the temporary custody hearing and continued through the first 40 days of the child's entry into care.

Findings include the following:

  • In children with fewer individual strengths, increasing trauma experiences led to increases in risk behaviors among children in care.
  • More kin and fictive kin involvement (i.e., telephone calls, visits) was associated with lower chances of risk behaviors.
  • Individual strengths acted as "buffering" variables to risk behavior, whereas kinship involvement was protective overall.

The study suggests that child welfare professionals should focus on both individual strengths and kinship supports to protect against trauma and the disruptions associated with being involved in child welfare.

"Foster Care Children's Kinship Involvement and Behavioral Risks: A Longitudinal Study," by Gayle L. Blakely, Scott C. Leon, Anne K. Fuller, and Grace Jhe Bai (Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26), is available at