Abstract: Achieving legal permanence for children in foster care: Attention to caregivers' characteristics (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

52P Achieving legal permanence for children in foster care: Attention to caregivers' characteristics

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Eun Koh, PhD , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, Chicago, IL

Background and Purpose

One of the major goals of public child welfare services is to promote family permanence for children in foster care. While more than 50% of children in foster care return home, reunification is not an option for a significant number of children, who then need an alternative permanent home through either adoption or legal guardianship. To assist these children to achieve legal permanence in a timely manner, previous literature has identified factors that would increase or decrease children's likelihood of adoption or legal guardianship. However, most studied have focused on child-related characteristics, and little is known about the effects of caregiver-related characteristics on children's permanency outcomes. In order to fill in such a gap in current literature, the present study strives to identify caregiver-related factors that promote children's achievement of legal permanence. Specifically, the study investigates the determinants that facilitate caregiver's commitment to permanence.


The data of the study come from the Tennessee's subsidized permanent guardianship demonstration. To date, 279 caregivers of 439 foster children, whose permanent goal was not reunification, were interviewed on a wide range of information of children and caregivers, including their demographics and needs. The survey also inquired about caregivers' social capital, and their intention to adopt or take guardianship of the child under their care. When caregivers had multiple foster children in their home, one child was randomly selected for the study. Logistic regression model was utilized as a main analytic method of the study to investigate the effects of caregiver-related factors on their decision to commit to permanence for the child under their care, while controlling for child-related covariates.


The study finds that caregivers' social capital has a significant effect on their decision to commit to the child's permanence. Specifically, the more assistance they could get from family members or friends, the more likely they are to determine to adopt or take legal guardianship of the child. However, the amount of support they could obtain from acquaintances had no significant impact on their commitment to the child's permanence. Caregivers' age, marital status and level of income, which are assumed to be related to the amount of resources caregivers require or have, were also identified as significant factors that influence their decision regarding the child's permanency plan. To date, 78.1% of children whose caregivers determined to adopt or take guardianship achieved legal permanence while the comparable rate was 20.3% for children whose caregivers didn't commit to the permanence at the time of interview (p<0.001).

Conclusions and Implications

The findings of the study suggest that the amount and quality of resources that caregivers possess or need could have a significant effect on their commitment to the child's permanence, which appears to have a direct relationship with the child's actual permanency outcomes. Future studies should investigate whether and what types of supplemental public child welfare services increase children's likelihood of achieving legal permanence, compensating caregivers' lack of resources and thus promoting their commitment to the child's permanence.