Methods: In this symposium, we present results from three studies, each of which uses a different methodology to address the underlying issue. Two of the papers address a fundamental question: are there discernable patterns in the sequence of events the make up a service history. The proposed papers take two slightly different approaches to this question. One study uses Optimal Matching (OM) to search for common patterns in the sequence of placement changes. A second study, uses latent class growth analysis to address a similar question: given the (full) history of service events, including placement, are there patterns in the sequence of events such that children can be grouped by their common experiences or trajectories. The third study examines placement change at a more granular level. That is, using measures of behavior (CBCL), the authors examine the effects of behavior problems on placement change and placement change on behavior problems.
Results: The results from the optimal matching analysis reveal 5 basic movement patterns distinguished by the rate of movement, level of care, and time in care. Multivariate analyses point to several individual, family and service factors that are related to the underlying patterns. In the second study, which uses latent class growth analysis, the authors describe up to seven distinct patterns in the sequence of events that link case opening (i.e., in-home services), placement into foster care, and the likelihood of subsequent maltreatment once children leave the system. The findings also suggest that the number of identified patterns, and the distribution of children across patterns, differ by age. The third study found that behavior problems predicted placement change consistently but placement changes had only isolated effects on subsequent behavior problems. Age and gender did have moderating effects.
Conclusions and Implications: First, it is important to consider the timing, duration, and sequence of all service events in a developmental context, as suggested by the life course perspective. Most child welfare research evaluates whether an event happens (e.g., maltreatment, entry into foster care, placement moves) as opposed to how the timing of the event contributes to and is influenced by the developmental context in which it occurs. Collectively, these papers amplify the importance of the life course perspective as a paradigm for understanding the experience of children inside the child welfare care system.