Child Maltreatment and Protective Service Involvement Among Sexual Minority Youth: An Exploration of Prevalence and Risk Factors
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Background and Purpose: A small body of research documents the association between sexual minority status and the risk of abuse victimization from parents in childhood and adolescence. Despite these concerns, little is known about the underlying risk factors for parental maltreatment and child protective service involvement among lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) youth, or the extent to which LGB youth with maltreatment histories are involved with the child welfare system. To address this gap, this study describes the frequency in which LGB youth reporting parental maltreatment (neglect, physical/sexual abuse) become involved with child protective services (abuse/neglect investigations, removals from home, and placements into out of home care) and identifies the individual, parental and environmental risk factors associated with these experiences.
Methods: Our analytic sample uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a nationally representative study that follows adolescents in grades 7 through 12 across four waves of interviews into adulthood. For the purpose of our analyses, we used data from Waves I and III to focus on a subpopulation of young people that identify as LGB (N=1,834). Within this group, we conducted exploratory analyses to gain a better understanding of the differences between LGB youth who report having parental maltreatment and/or child welfare system involvement compared to those who do not. Potential differences in parental, environmental, and individual risk factors were examined using descriptive statistics, correlations, mean differences tests, and regressions.
Results:Our analyses revealed nearly 1 of 4 LGB youth reported some type of parental maltreatment during childhood and adolescence. Within this subset, approximately 32% experienced involvement from child protective services (CPS) with 27% reporting investigations, 17% reporting removals from home, and 16% reporting placements into out of home care. Numerous environmental, parental, and individual factors showed strong correlations with parental maltreatment among LGB youth (e.g., socioeconomic status, parental religious affiliation, disability and immigration status of child,). Parental factors most strongly linked to child protective service involvement within the maltreatment subgroup included marital status, parental conflict, race/ethnicity, and environmental factors such as the receipt of welfare benefits. Further, the likelihood of parental maltreatment and child protective service involvement increased substantially with increases in the number of risk factors present.
Conclusions/Implications: This study reiterates prior research findings that suggest LGB youth are frequently exposed to child maltreatment, and provides new information about the frequency of child protective services involvement among LGB youth with maltreatment histories. It is also the first of its kind to identify which parental, environmental, and individual risk factors are associated with these experiences. Findings are highly relevant to research efforts to understand sexual orientation vulnerabilities in child maltreatment, and highlight the need to develop child maltreatment prevention and intervention strategies specific to LGB youth and their families.