Methods: The present study used data from the Middle School Success Project, a longitudinal randomized controlled trial that evaluated the efficacy of a version of the KEEP SAFE program for pre-adolescent girls in foster care (Chamberlain, Leve, & Smith, 2006). In the present analysis, only participants from the control group were examined (n = 46). Girls were, on average, 7.94 years old when first placed in foster care, had a mean placement change of 7.50 (range = 1 - 37), and had on average 32 maltreatment reports (range = 5 - 100). Risky decision-making was assessed using the CUPS task paradigm when youth were on average 16.42 years old. We conducted a multiple regression analysis to investigate the interaction between placement change and severity of maltreatment.
Results: Multiple regression analysis indicated that there was a significant interaction between number of placement change and maltreatment severity (β = 1.02, t = 2.50, p < .05). Specifically, foster girls who had a more severe history of maltreatment and who had a greater number of placement changes were more likely to take greater risks to avoid potential losses in the CUPS task paradigm. This pattern of associations was not found for taking risks to seek potential gains.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that the adversities experienced by girls in foster care (maltreatment and experiencing multiple placement changes), may affect their ability to make advantageous decisions when what is at stake is a potential loss. This has clear implications for prevention efforts as it reveals that repeated placement change may put maltreated girls at increased risk to conform to peer pressure in order to avoid the potential loss of a peer group. Intervention implications will be discussed.