NRSA Fellowship Kathi Harp: Longitudinal effects of custody loss on drug use and crime of African American women

Grants and Contracts Details


The overall goal of the present study is to understand how experiencing a custody issue is related to substance use and criminal behavior among African American women who are mothers across criminal offender status. While drug use is similar across racial groups in the US, African Americans disproportionately experience child welfare and criminal justice system involvement as a result of drug misuse. Very limited scientific data is available to help understand the effect of custody issues on a woman's subsequent substance use and crime. Prominent on NIDA's research agenda is the promotion of research addressing health disparities and vulnerabilities among minority populations. The proposed project addresses a facet of this mission by examining three types of custody issues as predictors of increased substance use and criminal behavior among African American women: official custody loss, unofficial custody loss (where the child is living outside of the home but was not ordered to do so by child welfare authorities), and having an open child protective services (CPS) case. The main objectives of this project are to identify risk factors for experiencing a custody issue in this population and to assess the substance use and criminal behavior-related outcomes of undergoing a custody issue. Because children are a significant source of social support for mothers, the loss of such support is likely to increase dependence upon other sources of support such as family and friends. When this support is adequate, women may be less likely to increase their substance use and criminal behavior after experiencing a custody issue. This study is significant because of its potential to identify differences in the substance use and criminal behavior outcomes of African American women who experience a variety of custody issues, and uncover disparities among drug using and non-drug using women across three levels of criminal justice involvement (n=200 per group): prison, probation, and community (no criminal justice involvement). Data for analyses will be derived from Waves 1-4 of the "African American Female Drug Users: HIV, Health Disparities, and Criminality" study (also known as "B-WISE"; NIDA R01-DA22967), an ongoing longitudinal study of 600 African American women. All women are interviewed at baseline and at 6, 12, and 18 months after the initial interview. The specific aims of the present study are (1) To describe the characteristics of African American women who have experienced official custody loss, unofficial custody loss, or having an open CPS case, compared to women who have not; (2) To determine if frequency of illicit substance use is a significant predictor of whether or not a woman undergoes a custodial issue during the study timeframe; (3) To examine the effect of experiencing one of the above custody issues on subsequent substance use and criminal behaviors, and to determine if this relationship differs depending on the specific custody issue experienced; and (4) To determine if characteristics of the child and perceptions of social support moderate the relationship between experiencing a custody issue and subsequent changes in substance use and criminal involvement. Fixed effects models will be used to estimate the impact of factors such as social support, criminal justice status, and characteristics of the child on post-custody issue changes in drug use and criminal involvement. The significance of this study includes the potential to provide data for criminal justice system and child welfare system policy for the prevention, intervention, and treatment of African American mothers who are substance users.
Effective start/end date6/1/115/31/13


  • National Institute on Drug Abuse: $32,682.00


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