Linking Foster Family Characteristics and Mental Health Symptoms of Youth in Care

Katie J. Stone, Yo Jackson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Youth in foster care are disproportionately at risk for developing internalizing and externalizing problems (Lawrence et al., 2006); however, a history of maltreatment prior to foster care placement does not automatically result in poor mental health outcomes. Among non-foster care youth, the quality of family interactions has been related to adjustment outcomes, such that low family cohesion and high family conflict is associated with poor mental health symptoms (Caples & Barrera, 2006). While little is known about these constructs in foster care placements, they may help explain the variance in internalizing and externalizing problems for youth in foster care. The present study aimed to examine whether characteristics of the foster care environment (i.e., conflict, cohesion) across various placement types (i.e., traditional foster homes, group-care settings) could help explain the link between previous maltreatment exposure and mental health problems. The sample included 178 youth in foster care (Mage = 15.18, SD = 1.76) and their foster caregivers living in the Midwest. Youth participants completed self-report measures about prior maltreatment history, current family environment characteristics, and youth internalizing symptoms. Foster caregivers completed measures on current family environment and youth externalizing symptoms. Results indicated that caregiver report, but not youth report, of family cohesion was negatively associated with youth report of internalizing problems. When examining the indirect effects, youth report of family conflict partially accounted for the link between youth self-report of maltreatment and internalizing symptoms (B = 0.106, 95% CI = 0.026–0.186). Caregiver report of family conflict fully accounted for the association between youth self-report of maltreatment and caregiver report of youths’ externalizing symptoms (B = 0.108, 95% CI = 0.005–0.211). Findings highlight the importance of utilizing multiple informants when measuring foster family environment and suggest that family conflict is particularly salient for the mental health of youth in foster care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2792-2807
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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