The mental health of vulnerable youth and their transition to adulthood: Examining the role of the child welfare, juvenile justice, and runaway/homeless systems

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Elizabeth C. Hair, Ph.D.
Kathleen Sidorowicz
Laurie Martin
Alyssa Milot


The Add Health study sample used in this study consisted of youth in grades 7th through 12th in Waves 1-3 (n=14,322). The study found that only 10% of the full sample had any contact with the three service systems examined. Of these youth, approximately one in five were involved with multiple service systems. Youth who had contact with a service system compared to those youth who were at low risk for such contact were more likely to be classified by the researchers as “troubled” youth, the “alcohol interference” youth profiles, and the “depressed” and “delinquent plus” profiles than those youth in the “non-troubled” youth profile. The study also found that youth with poorer mental health during the transition to adulthood faced difficulty on other young-adult experiences. Those youth in contact with a public service system had more difficult experiences when transitioning to adulthood than those youth at low risk for contact. In addition, the study found that adolescents who had any service system contact were significantly more likely to report receiving counseling, with 13.4% reporting counseling in the 12 months prior to Wave 3. Youth who reported spending at least one day in a mental health facility varied greatly by level of service system contact. Youth who had contact with multiple public service systems were more likely to have ever received mental health services in the four categories investigated. The strengths and limitations of the study methodology are discussed, along with discussions for future research.

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