Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16228 California Partners for Permanency (CAPP): Toward Reducing Disparity In Child Welfare Permanency Outcomes

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 1:30 PM
Independence C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Daniel Webster, PhD, Associate Research Specialist, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Debbie Williams, MSW, Chief, California Department of Social Services, Sacramento, CA
Stuart Oppenheim, MSW, Executive Director, Child and Family Policy Institute of California, Sacramento, CA
David Plassman, MSW, Supervisor, Fresno Department of Children and Family Services, Fresno, CA
Joseph Magruder, PhD, Associate Specialist, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background & Purpose: In recent years, disparity in child welfare outcomes for children of different ethnic groups has been a subject of increasing interest. Research suggests that the topic is complex with studies that have offered mixed conclusions (Fluke et al., 2010). Some work has argued that racial differences in outcomes stem from institutional bias grounded in systemic policies and practices (Hill, 2004), while more recent research has found little evidence for racial differences in child protection that is not consistent with known differences in other outcomes such as child mortality (Drake et al., 2011). The present study was undertaken as a first step in selection of a target population for a grantee participating in a federal initiative to reduce lengths of stay in foster care. The study sought to determine the impact of race relative to other child and case characteristics on the likelihood of achieving permanency, and thus to provide preliminary information to inform the development of needed practice innovations.

Method: The study analyzed information from a statewide longitudinal, event-level administrative data system. The sample was drawn from children entering foster care for the first time and remaining in care at least 90 days in five jurisdictions across the state during calendar years 2004-2006 (n=3,799), and was tracked until exit or the study extract date (January 1, 2010). Special efforts were made to identify American Indian children in the data system, as they are considered to be underreported. Data were examined using Life Table, and Cox regression survival analysis methods. Child demographic and placement information were used as covariates in multivariate models examining the likelihood of discharge to a permanent exit (e.g., reunification, adoption, or some form of legal guardianship) versus not (i.e., experience a non-permanent exit such as emancipation, runaway, or be still in care at the end of follow-up).

Results: Controlling for other factors, African American children (hazard ratio=.717, p=<.001), and American Indian children (hazard ratio=.85, p=.014) had lower likelihood of achieving permanency than other children. Additional child and case characteristics had statistically significant relationships with permanency in one or more sites; however, African American and American Indian groups consistently emerged as the most robust predictors of non-permanent exits or remaining in long term foster care.

Discussion: Results suggest that African American and American Indian youth are at elevated risk of poor permanency outcomes, and are thus groups which could benefit from innovative permanency strategies. Further analyses, and implications for practice and policy changes to address systemic barriers to permanency for these children are discussed.

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