Risk and Protective Factors for Drug Use Among Youth Living in Foster Care

Jody Brook, Graham G. Rifenbark, Aaron Boulton, Todd D. Little, Thomas P. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Despite recent advances in understanding the individual and contextual development of youth substance abuse, limitations remain regarding the interplay of risk and protective factors—especially for highly vulnerable foster care youth. Using data available from the Communities That Care Youth Survey, we analyzed risk and protective factors for a sample of 1,595 foster youth. Structural equation modeling was used, and a three-factor confirmatory factory analysis was estimated to validate the survey measurement structure. To differentiate between risk and protective constructs, the researchers employed an orthogonalizing approach to deal with collinearity between risk and protection. Findings indicate a high correlation between the risk and protective constructs and suggest a single dimension for this sample and for the scales as they are currently constructed; however, the orthogonalizing approach used here also provided some support for considering these constructs separately. Findings generated from our study also suggest that risk factors play a greater role in predicting drug use than do protective factors among foster youth. If the differentiation of risks/protective factors is to serve fully in assessment and intervention, we need to disentangle constructs and learn more about their relative and interactive influence. These findings reveal an important distinction in the understanding of the role that risk and protection may play. Although either decreasing risk factors or increasing protective factors will mitigate drug use in foster care youth, our findings suggest that the development and implementation of targeted risk reduction strategies may result in a larger impact.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-165
Number of pages11
JournalChild and Adolescent Social Work Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2015


  • Foster care youth
  • Risk and protective factors
  • Structural equation modeling
  • Substance abuse


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