Understanding trauma experiences and needs through a comprehensive assessment of transition age youth in child welfare

Tawny R. Spinelli*, Ellie Bruckner, Cassandra L. Kisiel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: In the context of child welfare, Transition Age Youth (TAY) have high rates of trauma experiences (TEs) and are more likely to exhibit negative outcomes as they transition into adulthood. Objective: This study describes the frequency and distribution of TEs among TAY in child welfare, as a whole and across sex and race/ethnicity. This study also examines the relationship between TEs and Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) needs. Participants and setting: Participants included 3324 TAY (14.5 to 21-year-olds) who were under the care of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (IDCFS) and in out-of-home care for at least one year. Methods: The CANS was the primary measure for this study. Administrative and clinical data were examined for youth who met the identified criteria. Pearson's chi-square tests of association were conducted to determine differences in TEs across race/ethnicity and sex. Negative binomial regressions were used to determine the association between TEs and needs. Results: Most TAY had at least one TE (91%) and the majority had four or more TEs (52%). Significant differences occurred in relation to sex and race/ethnicity. Furthermore, TEs were significantly associated with needs across all CANS domains examined (e.g., behavioral/emotional needs, life domain functioning). Conclusions: This is one of the few empirical studies to examine TEs and related functional, behavioral, and emotional needs of TAY in child welfare. Overall, findings suggest a need for improving trauma-informed approaches and interventions that serve TAY.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105367
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • ACEs
  • Child trauma
  • Child welfare
  • Emerging adults
  • Foster care
  • Transition age youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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