The majority of adolescents experience the transition from elementary to middle school with relative ease. However, adolescent girls who have been raised in foster care are particularly vulnerable to negative behaviors. “Although girls in foster care commit lower levels of offenses than their counterpart boys, many girls in foster care are at increased risk of having multiple pregnancies/live births and maltreating their own children,” said Hyoun K. Kim of the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, Oregon. Although there are few interventions targeted specifically at these girls, the importance of early treatment cannot be understated.
Many of the girls in foster care have experienced sexual, physical, or emotional abuse and are at increased risk for substance use or psychological problems well before they enter middle school. “Studies using diagnostic interviews have also indicated that youths in foster care tend to show high lifetime prevalence rates for disruptive disorders such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, ranging from 21% to 48%,” said Kim. “Given that substance use and other co-occurring problem behaviors tend to increase substantially during middle school years, preventive interventions for preadolescent girls aimed at reducing risk for a set of problems are urgently needed.”
Kim utilized the Middle School Success (MSS) intervention in a study on 100 girls in foster care and their caregivers. The intervention targeted substance use, delinquency, and other psychological and social problems that are evident in at risk youth. Kim evaluated the girls five times over 3 years and found that MSS drastically reduced substance use in the girls over the 36-month period. Kim noted that “MSS intervention was especially effective in reducing risk for tobacco and marijuana use, as reflected in significantly lower levels of tobacco and marijuana use in the past 12 months for the girls in the MSS intervention condition than for girls in the control condition.” Kim emphasized that although middle school can be a difficult transition for many, for girls in foster care, it is an ideal time to provide effective interventions. Kim added, “Although longer term effects into late adolescence and young adulthood remain to be seen, the present study indicates the potential clinical value of the MSS intervention in promoting adjustment during middle adolescence.”
Kim, H. K., Leve, L. D. (2011). Substance use and delinquency among middle school girls in foster care: A three-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.6: 740-750.
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