History of foster care among homeless adults with mental illness in Vancouver, British Columbia: a precursor to trajectories of risk


It is well documented that a disproportionate number of homeless adults have childhood histories of foster care placement(s). This study examines the relationship between foster care placement as a predictor of adult substance use disorders (including frequency, severity and type), mental illness, vocational functioning, service use and duration of homelessness among a sample of homeless adults with mental illness. We hypothesize that a history of foster care predicts earlier, more severe and more frequent substance use, multiple mental disorder diagnoses, discontinuous work history, and longer durations of homelessness.


This study was conducted using baseline data from two randomized controlled trials in Vancouver, British Columbia for participants who responded to a series of questions pertaining to out-of-home care at 12 months follow-up (n = 442). Primary outcomes included current mental disorders; substance use including type, frequency and severity; physical health; duration of homelessness; vocational functioning; and service use.


In multivariable regression models, a history of foster care placement independently predicted incomplete high school, duration of homelessness, discontinuous work history, less severe types of mental illness, multiple mental disorders, early initiation of drug and/or alcohol use, and daily drug use.


This is the first Canadian study to investigate the relationship between a history of foster care and current substance use among homeless adults with mental illness, controlling for several other potential confounding factors. It is important to screen homeless youth who exit foster care for substance use, and to provide integrated treatment for concurrent disorders to homeless youth and adults who have both psychiatric and substance use problems.

Publication Date: 
Journal Name: 
BMC Psychiatry
Vancouver, BC, Canada