Black and Latinx youth are more likely to be placed into foster care compared to non-Latinx white youth. Foster care placement can facilitate mental health service use, yet youth from marginalized and oppressed racial and ethnic groups in foster care are still less likely to receive mental health services compared to non-Latinx white youth. This study aims to examine this discrepancy Black and Latinx youth face by testing (a) whether mental health need moderates the relationship between race or ethnicity and foster care placement and (b) whether race or ethnicity moderates the relationship between foster care placement and mental health service use. Data come from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW II), a longitudinal national probability study of youth in contact with the child welfare system. Internalizing need was associated with a decreased likelihood of foster care placement for non-Latinx white youth compared to those with no need; findings showed the opposite for Latinx youth.
Race and ethnicity did not significantly moderate the relationship between foster care placement and mental health service use, although predicted probabilities suggest that differences in mental health service use were more pronounced for Black and Latinx youth in in-home and kinship care compared to non-kinship foster care. Results suggest that despite main effects of race and ethnicity on foster care placement and mental health service use, discrepancies across these outcomes are not explained by race and ethnicity alone.
Findings highlight the need to comprehensively examine predictors together, rather than separately, when assessing foster care care placement and mental health service use. A multi-pronged approach is outlined for child welfare reform.