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

16336 Age-Specific Hazard Rates for Exit From Non-Kinship Family Foster Care

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:00 PM
Franklin Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Eric van Santen, PhD, Senior Researcher, German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut e. V.), Munich, Germany
Purpose Child Welfare Systems in many countries struggle with families and children in need. Services differ between countries. In Germany, 45% of children in out-of-home care are placed in foster care; 55% in residential care. Monitoring placements is costly, both in terms of human and financial cost. Analyzing age-specific hazard rates of different exit types can give a clue what the vulnerable age periods for specific transitions out of out-of-home care are. This helps to focus attention of child welfare personnel during these periods and might reduce cost and placement instability. Past research shows frequent placement changes during adolescence, but less is known about the connection between age at entry, age at exit and exit type since study observation periods are usually short and often focus on specific age groups at entry as well as single exit types (mostly reunification).

Method The data stems from official statistics of the German child and youth welfare service relating to two complete exit cohorts for the years 2005 and 2006, irrespective of when they began (n= 9,995). The study period includes the entire length of stay in family foster care setting for the exit cohorts, up to 22 years maximum. Age at entry to non-kinship family foster care was in the range 0 to 21 years. Event history analysis is used to determine age-specific hazard rates. Age-specific hazard rates of different exit types are compared.

Results In Germany the mean LOS in family foster care is 52.9 months, distinctly longer than in the USA. The period immediately following the start of family foster care is one of the hazard rate peaks for all age groups. After entry children under 3 have the highest hazard rate. In the first two years after the start of care, the hazard rates of all age groups decline almost continuously, at different levels and stay stable afterwards. Independent of age at entry age-specific hazard rates tend most notably to rise again after the children passed their 15th birthday. Hazard rates for reunification are highest for young children shortly after admission. Older children, who have been in care for longer periods, have high hazard rates for entry into residential care as well as emancipation from care.

Implications The first months immediately following admission to care and the beginning of adolescence show the highest risk of status changes. As the rate for reunification is especially high during the first months of care, child welfare services should keep intensive contact with parents. Whereas in adolescence with high rates of exit to emancipation and residential care, intensified contacts should be established with the youth themselves and their foster caregivers to potentially avoid residential care placement. The high hazard rates for end of family foster care shortly after entry question the adequacy of the care planning process. Further research should focus on this. Discussion will also focus on some of the differences between the German and the US child welfare system.