Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:00 PM
Independence C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
BACKGROUND & PURPOSE: Despite the fact that most children enter foster care due to safety threats associated with maltreatment, (DHHS, 2010), very little is known about why some unsafe children who enter out-of-home care, stay in care beyond the federal standard of 17 months. Research findings are mixed about whether child, parental, or family characteristics at the time of placement (Frame, 2002; Rzepnicki, et al., 1997; Wells & Guo, 1999) or the level and quality of service responses are better predictors of the length of care (Wulczyn, et al., 2010). As a first step in planning a permanency innovation initiative, the authors present findings from a multi-level evaluation that explored the barriers to timely permanency during the exploration and planning stage of implementation of a randomized trial of a safety management intervention. METHODS: This prospective study selected all 2,800 children who entered care over a 12 month period due to safety threats associated with maltreatment in a local jurisdiction, starting July 1, 2006, and followed them forward to January 2011. Data were examined using Life Table, Kaplan Meier, and Cox Proportional Regression survival analysis methods. Simultaneously, two random samples of case records (children in care >2 yrs or >3 yrs) were coded to evaluate the quality of decision-making and assessment, the degree of engagement of parents and children in formal interventions that matched presenting safety threats, and the quality and intensity of services offered and provided. RESULTS: .Patterns of exit showed 44 % of children existing care within the first thirty days and a declining likelihood of exit after 6-12 months in care. For the 1,500 children in care beyond 30 days, few case characteristics available in the SACWIS system predicted "time to exit" Variables that predicted longer time in care included: (1) number of safety threats at the time of placement; (2) African American, compared to white; (3) family structure with single-female parents; and (4) housing problems at entry. Being identified with a parent "who couldn't cope" predicted shorter stays. Case reviews identified a cluster of service delivery factors that appeared to relate to longer stays: (1) inadequate safety and family assessments; (2) lack of in-home safety services; (3) inadequate engagement of parents in focused, purposeful services; (3) case plans without SMART goals; (4) inadequate match of services directed to the reasons the child entered care; and (5) poor integration of parent-child visits into focused purposeful change oriented intervention. A collaborative team of agency, national consultant, and university partners worked together to analyze and interpret the meaning of both quantitative and qualitative results. CONCLUSIONS & IMPLICATIONS: Findings are consistent with federal CFSR reviews which highlight the importance of safety and comprehensive family assessments and with prior research that suggests the importance of engaging parents in child welfare services that bridge family needs and child welfare mandates (Kemp, et al., 2009). The team further concludes that the understanding of barriers to permanency was enriched through collaboration of the partner agencies and the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods.
Back to: Exploring Case and Service Characteristics of Children In Long-Term Foster Care to Guide Organizational Decision-Making for Implementing Practice and System Reforms