Foster Youth and Crime: Employing General Strain Theory to Promote Understanding

Ravinder Barn, Jo-Pei Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Despite the growing research evidence into vulnerability, disadvantage, and poor outcomes for young people leaving foster care, relatively little attention has been paid to our understanding of criminal engagement. The present study contributes to our understanding of this process by drawing on general strain
theory (GST) to examine how specific forms of strain may lead to crime among foster youth.
Methods: Data from a national study of post-care foster youth in England are examined using robust logistic regression analysis, and a thematic analysis of qualitative interviews. Logistic regression was applied to conduct a simultaneous analysis of main and interaction effects of strains and conditioning variables on
crime involvement among foster youth. Thematic analysis was utilised to explore themes for explaining the quantitative findings.
Results: Strains such as unemployment, school exclusion, length of time in care and instability of placement were significant predictors for involvement in criminal activity among foster youth. Conditioning factors, namely self-esteem and life skills acquired prior to leaving care, tend to mediate the relationship between these strains and criminal involvement. In-depth qualitative evidence further reinforced the effects of strains and conditional nature of the strains-crime relationship among foster youth.
Conclusions: The findings demonstrate the utility of employing GST in studies of foster youth, and they suggest implications for youth services and other foster youth programmes.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Criminal Justice
Early online date22 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2012


  • foster youth, youth crime, general strain theory

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