Sunday, January 18, 2009: 8:45 AM
Balcony K (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Purpose: Child welfare practitioners and researchers have long acknowledged that placement disruption creates multiple problems for foster children and potentially compromises their adult functioning and achievement. Furthermore, placement disruption incurs additional administrative and direct-service costs that strain the child welfare system. Previous studies have identified a child's behavior as one of the most significant of many factors that appear to be associated with placement disruption. Existing research, however, does not illuminate the differential impact that the environmental context of a child's behavior has on placement stability. For example, is aggression more predictive of placement disruption when displayed in the school environment or the home environment? Is stealing at school or at home more likely to cause foster parents to request a child's removal? This study seeks to fill a gap in the existing literature by clarifying the importance of the environmental context of a child's behavior in predicting total number of out-of-home placements. Specifically, we examined the impact of a child's behavior in the foster home, behavior in school, and academic performance on the total number of placements experienced by that child. We hypothesized that better behavior and academic performance in school would serve as buffers to placement disruption and reduce the total number of out-of-home placements. Findings may be of importance in informing policy makers, allocating resources, developing programs, guiding practitioners, and ultimately benefiting children. Method: We analyzed data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a nationally representative longitudinal cohort study conducted through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NSCAW data collection began in October, 1999, and is ongoing through 2010. NSCAW utilizes standardized surveys to collect information from children, current caregivers, former caregivers, teachers and caseworkers. We employed multivariate regression techniques to analyze data for 128 school-aged children. Controlling for history of abuse and neglect, placement type, length of stay in care, age, race and gender, we explored the significance of 1) a child's behavior at home, 2) a child's behavior at school, and 3) a child's academic performance in predicting total number of placements. Results: Multivariate regression results support our hypothesis that the environmental context of behavior is important. Behavior in school significantly predicted placement disruption for foster children (standardized beta = 0.183, p < 0.10), while behavior at home was not significant in predicting total number of placements (standardized beta = 0.118, p = 0.3) when behavior in school was included in the model. Contrary to our hypothesis, however, a foster child's academic performance was not a significant predictor of placement stability. Implications: These findings highlight the importance of re-conceptualizing intervention points in attempting to increase placement stability for foster children. Gains at school may signal progress to foster parents and may preserve their commitments to foster children. Consideration should be given to expanding and strengthening school supports for foster children, linking behavioral modification efforts between the school and home environments, and shifting resource allocation to support effective behavioral intervention in the schools.