Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Social Work


Kevin Gorey




Youths in foster care are a vulnerable population at risk of experiencing diverse challenges, ranging from academic to socio-emotional and behavioural. Those in group home care can be at great risk of developing mental health and behavioural problems, sometimes severe, due to their experiences of childhood traumas, multiple placements and negative peer influences. Peer influences can also be quite positive and protective. The relative positive or negative influences of peers on youths’ prosocial to antisocial behaviours are well-known in residential treatment contexts in the USA, much less so in such Canadian contexts; not at all in group homes in Canada. A recent overview of systematic reviews suggested that group home resources (e.g., smaller vs. larger homes) may be protective. And interdisciplinary research strongly suggested additional protections of neighborhood resources (e.g., more affluent vs. prevalently low-income). The study aimed to advance knowledge about associations between peer influences (positive or negative) and youths’ behaviours (prosocial or antisocial) in Ontario group homes. Three central hypotheses were tested cross-sectionally among 875 youths 10 to 17 years of age who were surveyed in Ontario group homes in 2011-12. The 182 youths who remained in group home care three years later (2014-15) were longitudinally assessed again within a retrospective cohort design. Hypotheses were: Main effects (1) Positive (protective factor) and negative (risk factor) peer influences are significantly associated with youths’ antisocial behaviours. Two-way interactions (2) Group home resources and (3) Neighborhood resources significantly moderate these peer-youth relationships such that better resourced homes and neighbourhoods are more protective. Potential additional effect modifications (3-way interactions) by gender were explored. The Ontario Looking after Children (OnLAC) database was joined to the 2011 National Household Survey by residential postal codes providing census tract/neighbourhood-level measures of low-income status. Main effects and interactions were tested with logistic regression models. Their statistical and practical significance was assessed with odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals that were estimated from regression statistics. Central, hypothetically supportive, cross-sectional findings follow. First, very negative peers significantly increased the risk of youths’ conduct problems (OR = 1.65). However, very positive peers were extraordinarily protective (OR = 0.05). Second, a significant positive peer influence by group home size interaction revealed larger such protections in larger homes with eight or more residents. An augmenting analysis found another positive peer-group home interaction highly predictive of prosocial behaviors among youths in smaller homes (OR = 4.49), but not in larger homes. Third, a negative peer-neighbourhood poverty interaction found that very negative peers greatly increased the risk of youths’ antisocial behaviours (OR = 3.07) in relatively poor neighbourhoods where 20% or more of the households had incomes below Statistics Canada’s low-income criterion, but not in more affluent ones. Longitudinally, smaller group homes (ORs of 4.55 vs. 5.26) and more affluent neighbourhoods (ORs of 3.88 vs 15.00) significantly diminished risks of youths’ antisocial behaviours or conduct problems associated with having very negatively influential peers. In aggregate, study findings could be colloquially summarized as follows: Having positively influential peers, and residing in relatively small, better resourced group homes and in more affluent neighbourhoods all matter in the care of at risk youths. They all seem substantially protective. Practice and policy implications and future research needs are discussed.