Intergenerational Trauma: The Relationship between Residential Schools and the Child Welfare System among Young People Who Use Drugs

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Barker B, Sedgemore K, Tourangeau M, Lagimodiere M, Milloy J, Dong H, Hyashi K, Shoveller J, Kerr T, DeBeck K. Intergenerational trauma: The relationship between residential schools & the child welfare system among young people who use drugs. J Adolesc Health. 2019 August; 65(2):248-254 PMID: 30948272. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.01.022.

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Purpose: This study investigated the relationship between familial residential school system (RSS) exposure and personal child welfare system (CWS) involvement among young people who use drugs (PWUD).

Methods: Data were obtained from two linked cohorts of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada and restricted to Indigenous participants. Multivariable logistic regression analysis was used to investigate the relationship between three categories of familial RSS exposure (none; grandparent; parent) and CWS involvement. A secondary analysis assessed the likelihood of CWS involvement between non-Indigenous and Indigenous PWUD with no familial RSS exposure.

Results: Between December 2011 and May 2016, 675 PWUD (age<35) were included in this study, 40% identified as Indigenous. In multivariable analyses, compared to Indigenous participants with no RSS exposure (reference), those with a grandparent in the RSS had a higher likelihood of having been in CWS (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]=1.34, 95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 0.67-2.71), as did those with a parent exposed to RSS (AOR=2.03, 95% CI: 1.03-3.99). In secondary analysis, the odds of CWS involvement was not significantly different between non-Indigenous and Indigenous PWUD with no familial RSS exposure (AOR=0.63, 95% CI: 0.38–1.06).

Conclusions: We observed a dose-response-type trend between familial RSS exposure and personal CWS involvement, and a non-significant difference in the likelihood of CWS involvement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous PWUD when controlling for RSS exposure. These data demonstrate the intergenerational impact of the RSS on the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in the CWS. Findings have critical implications for public policy and practice including reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples.


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U.S. National Institutes of Health